What makes a technical writer?

At HCi we have a huge database of technical writers, all of whom have undertaken an extensive battery of tests at our offices. We advertise constantly for new people, and we currently have 7961 technical writers on our database (out of a total of over 9000 people). Just out of curiosity, we thought we’d run some statistics on our database to find out the answer to the question: “Just what makes a technical writer?”

Out of the total of 7961 people, we characterised 1126 (14%) as ‘very experienced’, and the rest of these figures refer only to that subset.

A large number (68%) were competent in at least one programming language, although only 19% were actually ex-programmers. Very few (9%) had a technical communication qualification, reflecting the fact that there are few if any degree courses in technical writing in Australia. Some (12%) had a journalism degree, and some (12%) had a teaching qualification. Most (69%) had some qualification – but this was anything from Theology to Industrial Design.

It’s interesting to draw a parallel between technical writers today and programmers – in the early ’70s, qualified programmers were rare, and most organisations that employed them were using aptitude tests (similar to the testing that we do on our candidates) to identify suitable people.

Over half speak at least one language other than English.

Choosing the right person for the job involves:

  • knowing what the job itself requires; this in turn requires an experienced writer to assess the needs of the project or organisation – we can help with this
  • finding just the right person with those requirements
  • being able to contact that person and have them available at short notice

Using our database, we currently employ about 10% of the total employed technical writers in Australia. This puts us in a unique position when it comes to resourcing clients’ writing projects.