career exploration tech light writing & editing

Nontechnical sectors employ technical writers

Nontechnical sectors do hire technical writing grads but contrary to the occupation’s name, high-tech workplaces should be the last place you apply.

Reason is that every company produces some form of technical communication. Currently, companies are keen to undertake knowledgebase and transformation projects. The path toward gainful employment follows a series of stepping stones.

So if you contribute to the HR Policy & Procedures manual you can transition from administrative to technical. If you formalize department plans or specifications you can transition to more technical gigs. If you’ve become a SharePoint whiz you can leap from permanent to independent work in IT. And for all the project coordinators out there, if you’ve been picked to orchestrate assignments, schedules and deadlines, then go for project management certification.

Here’s a chart showing what grads from selected Vancouver area schools are doing 10 years later.

A look at what 2004 Vancouver area grads are doing 10 years later
Author’s compilation of stats from LinkedIn


career exploration writing & editing

STC salary database uses NAICS standard

Finally, my professional organization has published the 2012-2013 salary database. I’m as excited as Steve Martin’s character exclaiming, “The new phonebook’s here! The new phonebook’s here!”

While the STC salary database reports on data collected about US technical communicators, it’s still useful to those of us living and working in Canada. The NAICS standard makes it easier for North American countries to compare business statistics.

Breaking it down

A two-digit NAICS code categorizes an entire economic sector such as Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation (71).
A three-digit code represents an industry subgroup such as Performing Arts, Spectator Sports, and Related Industries (711).
A four-digit NAICS code represents a specific industry such as Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers (7115).
Deeper breakdowns specify services (711510 Technical Writer, independent, 541930 Translation services, language) and specialties (511130 Technical manual publishers).

Interestingly, the salary database reports that translation services have maintained employment numbers. We technical writers have yet to recover jobs lost to the 2007-2009 recession. Not to panic though. We’ve gained jobs in these industries:

  • Architectural, Engineering Services
  • Business, Professional, Labor, Political Organizations
  • Employment Services
Engineering Services
  • Information Services
Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
  • Semiconductor and Electronic Component Manufacturing
  • Testing Laboratories
  • Wholesale Electronic Markets and Agents and Brokers

Advantage Canada if you’re bilingual.

production & publishing writing & editing

Free: May issue of STC Intercom magazine

Who doesn’t like free? Well, this month’s issue of STC Intercom magazine is free and available to the public. Nice move STC!

Feature  You May Be an Instructional Designer
Multimedia  Content Evolution in the Translation Industry
Career  Now Is the Time to Design for User-Defined Content: It’s All About Metadata
Writing & Editing  The Technical Communicator’s Machine
Business Matters  Medical Writing and Editing Opportunities for the Independent Consultant or Contractor
The Strategic IA  Introducing the Strategic Information Architect

STC Intercom magazine May 2011
STC Intercom magazine May 2011
authors & audience writing & editing

Time to renew

Kiss this decade goodbye.

It was a tough year whether you worked or not. iTunes, for one, has not seen much spending from this customer. But I’m less worried about Apple. On the other hand the professional society I belong to went splaaat. A financial shortfall almost closed the doors.

Chapter members heard countless pleas to financially assist the society and responded with a.) ways to keep the society afloat, and b.) reasons to cut bait.

Canadian STC chapters get fewer benefits – no discounted insurance programs, no salary survey covering this country, no directorship, and lots fewer Canadian job postings. We are losing our pass-through dividend and probably lots of members too due to the dues increase.

More money for fewer services. I’ve gone back and forth – to fish or cut bait.

Traditions and resolutions get the better of me. I’m reviving our 1990’s practice of ringing in the new with a cup of warm sake.

And I’ll renew my STC membership for 2010 for the price of three artists complete sets on iTunes.

Happy New Year’s Day.

design & typography grammar & speech language & style production & publishing writing & editing

Summer interns

A few months back I commented on the parts of technical writing I enjoy–the nuance of language, a collegial atmosphere. This month I’m adding another aspect, summer interns.

technical publications competition group
international interns, chapter advisors, and competition manager

I’ve been fortunate to work with a group of international students on a not-for-profit project. They’ve taken on planning an event for the Fall. Short of registering their friends and family they are promoting the event in every possible way. They’ve created a plan, designed a logo, multiplied the database and learned a bit about technical writing too. The students became organized as any product team might except that their buzz was about learning English, not launching a product.

International students find internships to practice speaking and listening, reading and writing in English. Passing those skills on a proficiency exam is a key to their future.

authors & audience design & typography writing & editing

Tech pubs compete

blue ribbonNow that the international technical publications competition has wrapped up it’s time to prepare for the next one. Reasons to submit an entry are numerous but mainly it’s for authors to receive a peer-reviewed evaluation. Teams of evaluators independently complete a multipoint checklist.

Areas covered

  • Content and organization—does it cover the main points, meet the purpose?
  • Copy editing—is it error-free, informative and appropriate for the audience?
  • Graphics—do they illustrate concepts?
  • Production—does it project a professional image?
  • Visual design—does it appeal, are elements integrated?

Handling flaws

Any weak areas are further evaluated. A major flaw substantially hinders the user, whereas a minor flaw might cause a momentary stumble, but doesn’t slow down the user much.

  • Major flaw examples: illogical organization; incomplete or missing content; consistently unclear style; no table of contents, headers, page numbers, or index; inaccurate page numbers in table of contents or index; procedural steps buried in text; a consistent pattern of spelling and grammatical errors; confusing terminology, difficult navigation, poor visual quality.
  • Minor flaw examples: a few instances of spelling and grammatical errors, misplaced graphics, inconsistent capitalization, or confusing terminology.

Award levels

  • Distinction — a work that is clearly superior in all areas. No major flaws and few, if any, minor flaws. The work applies principles of technical communication in an outstanding way, anticipates and fulfills audience needs.
  • Excellence — a work that consistently meets high standards in all areas. Clearly (if slightly imperfectly) demonstrates exceptional understanding of technical communication principles.
  • Merit — a work that consistently meets high standards in most areas. Applies technical communication principles in a highly proficient manner.

The two parts of a judging competition are the entries and the judges. Competition participation begins at your local chapter of the Society for Technical Communication.

writing & editing


It’s been a month of celebrations–Obama’s inauguration, Chinese New Year and  reason to hope for economic improvement.

After taking a time out after summer 2008 I started a program to become a Canadian immigration consultant. My own immigration experience was straightforward and so I thought I could help others wanting to move here.

Facing the Fork

I am a baby-boomer so I don’t have a long timeline to do over a career. My biggest asset is my ability to make a living but the 2008 economic downturn affected me.

What I know about occupations in general is that they fall into three categories: people, things, and ideas. They’re all in the mix for technical communicators. Immigration consulting is knowing about policies, procedures, and intercultural communication.

What about technical communication? I still want to continue doing technical writing. It’s been my occupation for 20 years and my passion. I figured out the parts of technical writing I like. While I’m not that geeky, I do like the ‘wordie’ aspect.

It all comes together in a program called Immigration Law Policies and Procedures offered through the Intercultural Communications department at University of British Columbia. I’m fascinated to hear about others’ journey to Canada — not just for a better job or for family reunification but also for a safe destination. Of my 60 classmates everyone appears motivated to learn the rules and regulations in order to help loved ones land safely.

My experience with immigration is only first-hand and it was a smooth transition thanks to a great lawyer and a patient husband. We’re eligible to apply for citizenship this year so for anyone still wondering whether we’re moving back to the U.S., nope.

"Happy New Year!"
"Gung Hay Fat Choy!"
writing & editing

Free the verbs

While verbs do the job of denoting action, some sentences challenge us to find a pulse. Luckily, there’s a way to reveal those hidden actions. Here’s how.

Locate an equipment warranty or similar document that has conditions and clauses. Now look for a verb form that ends in –ance, –tion, or –ment. These suffixes tip-off actions that will spring to life after a simple rewrite.

For example you can probably spot the word ‘agreement’. To free the verb agree simply lop off the verbal suffix then rephrase the sentence. You’ll go from… ‘We must get to the agreement stage…’ to ‘We agree to disagree’.