We will always need technical communicators
Posted by maryvanbe
In Content Management: Beyond Single Sourcing, Hart-Davidson states that technical writing duties will be more broadly deployed in content creation in the future. He then asks what technical communicators will do. I am not sure I am reading his chapter correctly, but this is certainly not the case in my workplace, and I would bemoan the fact if it ever were.
This is because technical communication is a highly skilled field with many subsets, each holding specialized knowledge. For example, I am a medical writer and editor, which is a highly specialized discipline under the umbrella of technical communication.
I completed the pre-med curriculum at my university, I’ve worked in scientific laboratories, I’ve written about science and medicine during my 25-year career. Medical writers and editors are not that common, and I’ve never run across another person with the same credentials as I have. So I have trouble envisioning anyone else at my workplace, which is very large, having the skills and knowledge to do what I do. I would think this would be the same at most organizations, that highly skilled technical writers would continue to occupy a niche.
Technical writers—or any other type of skilled, talented writers—are not commodities. And many people who are not technical writers think they are and could do a writer’s job. That is simply not the case. Highly skilled and trained writers have received training in communication theory, rhetoric and many other disciplines that makes them uniquely qualified to do the job they are trained to do. From my point of view, highly skilled writers and the IT guy down the hall who thinks he can do a technical writer’s job are not interchangeable.
There will always be a role for talented and skilled writers, because it is a discipline in itself. And we will always need technical writers, who are one step removed from the subject matter, which allows them to be more objective than the subject matter experts, who might write quite well but cannot possibly have that perspective.
When Hart-Davidson speaks of content management with distributed authorship, I think of the Web site where I work. A few of us have the permissions needed to upload new materials to or to change the Web site, but no one else but me writes content for or changes the site but me, because I have the skills to do that. Other people have the permissions, but their job is not to write, it is to perform IT maintenance tasks or build more wireframes, etc.
We don’t currently allow the rest of the staff to write or post materials for the site without going through Communications. This is for the very reason that we don’t want non-writers to change the voice, the quality or the format of the Web site. It must be consistent and align with our brand and style. In fact, I often get material from non-writers on the staff who want me to post things on the Web site, intranet, Internet or TV monitors, and it is usually full of grammatical and spelling errors that need to be fixed before they’re posted. Without a skilled gatekeeper, that level of quality would be difficult to maintain.
Technical communicators will always have a place at the table, particularly when they keep up with their skills and credentials so they can offer added value to their organization.
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