The Future of Tech Writing Jobs

The following post was composed by guest blogger Elizabethtown College student Rachel Lee.

The research of Eva Brumberger and Claire Lauer expands on previous studies of the technical communication field. This updated look at the field can provide professionals and recent graduates with information about what skills, competencies, and characteristics employers are currently looking for in technical communicators.


In their study, Brumberger and Lauer focused on three main questions:


  • What genre/information product knowledge is important for success in the technical communication job market?
  • What technology skills are essential for success in the technical communication job market?
  • What professional competencies and personal characteristics are essential for success in the technical communication job market?


To answer these questions, the researchers analyzed about 1,000 U.S. technical communication job postings on over a two-month period. They found that the jobs fell into five main categories: technical writer/editor, content developer/manager, grant/proposal writer, medical writer, and social media.


To get a sense of the field, 52% of the jobs were in the technical writer/editor category, 69% were full-time permanent positions (not full-time temporary or part-time), and 57% required at least a bachelor’s degree. Only 16% of the job postings provided salary information in dollar amounts; most stated it was dependent on the applicant’s experience level. Of those that did provide salaries, they ranged from $21/hour to $37/hour in hourly rates and from $49K to $78.5K in yearly salaries.


Across the five categories, Brumberger and Lauer found core competencies required in the field. Genre knowledge was important across all categories and MS Office was the most commonly requested software in the job listings. Other important software included Content Management System, HTML/CSS/JavaScript, and Photoshop. The most frequently requested professional competency was written communication (at least 70% in each job category). Other important professional competencies were project management, editing, visual communication, and research. The most frequently requested personal characteristics were collaboration and time management skills. Independence/initiative and analytical/critical thinking were also highly valued.


Considering these finding, the study suggested technical communication students should consider content management, social media, and website writing courses to follow these newer trends. They should also keep in mind that promotional/brand/marketing is no longer limited to marketing and PR fields and that there is an increasing need for subject matter expertise/familiarity in areas such as engineering, information technology, and biology. Students should consider taking courses to learn and hone these skills that frequently arose in the job listings analyzed by this study.


Eva Brumberger and Claire Lauer. “The Evolution of Technical Communication: an Analysis of Industry Job Postings.” Technical Communication 62.4, November 2015.

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Tips for Freelancers: How to Communicate with Clients

The following has been contributed by guest blogger, Elizabethtown College student Anna Speer.


Writers no longer need to be present in a corporate environment in order to write for a corporation. Freelance writers won’t receive benefits or payroll from the company, and it’s easier to hire someone short-term for a specific task than to give them a permanent position. Writing and culture are strongly intertwined, which can make it difficult for a freelance writer who never meets their clients in person.


Some technical writers believe that corporate culture only impacts full-time writers. One writer noted that companies will recognize that the freelance writer is an outsider, and will treat them as such. Another, however, said that corporate culture is important as a means of understanding the people or business behind the project.


Regardless of their scores on a survey rating the amount of corporate culture that they deal with, writers disagreed on the importance of knowing and understanding the personalities behind the project. Generally, the writers agreed that it’s important to have at least a mild understanding of a client’s corporate culture while remaining neutral in case of disagreements between management.


What that means for aspiring technical writers is that, as with any job, balance is important. If you want to give a client exactly what they’re looking for, you will need to have an idea of how that company works. That being said, you must also remember to not get involved in any workplace drama. That’s one of the benefits of being a freelance writer- you are able to easily remove yourself from any tense situations.



Kathy Brady. “Freelance Technical Writers and Their Place outside Corporate culture: High and Low Corporate Culture Styles” Technical Communication Quarterly 20.1, 2011


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The Treatment of Gender and Feminism in the Technical Writing Workplace

The following post has been prepared by guest blogger, Elizabethtown College student Sarah Olson.


In recent years, there has been an increase in women in professional fields such as business and engineering. While one might believe this would lead to unbiased portrayals and focuses in documents, researchers White, Rumsey, and Amidon conducted a content analysis on multiple journals and textbooks to determine the inclusion of women within these documents.


White, Rumsey, and Amidon found that “based on [their] analysis, the professional, published discourse within the field of business and technical writing studies maintains an implicit message that workplaces and classrooms are gender neutral” (30). However, they also determined that this “neutral” message does not cater to the average adult, but rather focuses mainly on men and male experiences. This was shown by a lack of discussion of female-specific experiences, such as the hardships of entering a male-dominated workplace; and also through a focus on male experiences, such as technical writing textbooks’ discussions of professional dress codes where women were almost added as an afterthought. For example, in one textbook, by DiSanza and Legge, both men and women are told how to dress, but only men receive an explanation why they should do so.


Based on a content analysis, the researchers found that while the number of articles written between 1989-1997 and the number of articles written between 1998-2004 was approximately the same, the number of articles written about women declined over time.


Additionally, the researchers found that the rise in women in fields such as business and engineering has not fixed the struggles women face entering these fields; this is true not only in the workplace, but also the classroom.


White, Rumsey, and Amidon recommend the following actions, based on “Toward a Feminist Rhetoric of Technology” by Amy Koerber, moving forward:


  • Creating “a newer, more inclusive definition of technology” (52)
  • “Asking research questions which explore technological issues that actually matter to women” (52)
  • Moving “away from a rhetoric of technology built around the needs and interests of men” (52)


Kate White, Suzanne Kesler Rumsey, and Stevens Amidon. “Are We ‘There’ Yet? The Treatment of Gender and Feminism in Technical, Business, and Workplace Writing Studies” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 46.1 2016.

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5 Tricks to Improve Student Engagement in Research Papers

Today students can Google the details about nearly any debate.  With that type of information at their fingertips, Millennials may wonder why they need to take time to deeply research an argument as part of their academic training.  Google can provide them with a quick answer, maybe even the right answer.  How can this generation learn to analyze, when technology has trained them to simply absorb?


Laura Fox of Harford County Community College redesigned her composition course to set up this scenario: research = inquiry and scholarship = conversation.


Showing students how they, ideally, can become part of the scholarly conversation deepens what the required research paper assignment can do.  Here are some of Fox’s tips:


  • tell students from the start that they are scholars. Let them revel in that.


  • support students in how to read a scholarly article. Confer this piece of wisdom: “If you can’t understand the title, don’t even bother with the article)


  • explore the research process.  Ask students to predict the type of information they will need to find, but prepare them for the likelihood that their topic will chance as they come to understand it.


  • model choosing the correct quotes. Show students that scholars do not select from the article abstract or the obvious generalizations; help them to identify real meaty passages that could be adapted into support. Fox developed a worksheet that asks students to provide the Works Cited entry, the intext citation, and the paraphrase for each quote the student finds to be useful. They are also asked to reflect on how this one quote changes their understanding of the research topic.


  • research alongside your students. Bring your own professional research into the classroom and model source selection, quote use, and thesis development in front of the students.


That seemed like the best idea to me!  I’ve brought my past research into the classroom in the form of quotation exercises and narratives, but now I see the benefit of researching right alongside my students and modeling my changing understanding of the topic as I research.  The joy of useful research is not being entirely positive of where you are going when you start out, and that is something I can share with my students.

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12 Step Program for Lectureholics

14th century lecture, with sleeping students

Lecturing 14th-century style, at the University of Bologna

The best lecturers produce the same level of student information-retention as the worst engaged classroom instruction. Neil Davidson shared the research that supports this claim in his presentation “Breaking the Cycle of Teaching the Way You Were Taught.”


Consider your own worst lecture experience from your past. Did you have a professor who read from the book for the 50 minute class?  One who talked only to the board, or was too highbrow to connect with the class?  The engaged classroom model offers professors a chance to move beyond the lectern and cause students to do more than absorb a script.


Davidson, a Mathematics professor, recommended replacing class-long lectures with LLLOLLs, Legitimate Little Lectures of Limited Length.  These ‘lecturettes’ can be interspersed with  engaged classroom practices.  I like to think of it as the Sesame Street classroom: a variety of engaging activity supporting valuable information transfer.


Davidson also recommended starting small.  Instead of reworking an entire course, he said it is better to start with one unit, or even a single lesson plan.


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Engaged Teaching Practices and Validation at Lilly Conference

Learning new ideas was pretty exciting.  Perhaps even better, though was to learn that, based on evidence, the pedagogy you were already employing had been identified as the best practice.


Lilly conference attendees are chattier than most conference goers I’ve encountered.  Sitting at a table for lunch, you quickly start sharing notes on your last session with the perfect stranger next to you.  At one such meeting, I had the chance to explain process writing to a professor of social work.  She had been using staged writing assignments for years, and she was thrilled to learn that this was ‘a thing,” with its own pedagogy and following.


I also learned that one of the practices I use in the classroom is more commonly called ‘Think, Pair, Share,” and then I was told to “Think, Pair, Share” so many times I promptly promised myself I would never use that label with my students.  This is the practice of asking students to pause, chat with a partner, then share ideas with the whole class.  It’s a great way to motivate a silent classroom.


Focusing on what you are doing right will also allow you to survive the onslaught of new ideas gathered at Lilly.  Despite the fact that the flipped classroom trend may cause some of us to feel guilty for not trying it, I was relieved to learn that this student-centered learning strategy is really intended for STEM subjects.  As a writing and literature instructor, I can watch the flipped classroom craze from the sidelines.


Professors come to teaching from such different tracks, and many enter the classroom with little instruction on how to best motivate student learning.  Lilly offers a wonderful opportunity to reassess old teaching habits, and, if we are lucky, simply rename them.


The energy at the Lilly Conference compelled me to rethink much of what I do in the classroom.  That whole process–re-envisioning skills units, redesigning assignments, reworking approaches to student meetings–can be exhausting.  Some of the conference attendees spent their evenings diving into their syllabi and implementing the evidence-based strategies that had been discussed during the day.

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How to Comment on Student Papers without Destroying Souls

The standing-room only talk “Giving Students Feedback on their Papers” hosted by Sal Meyers and Brian Smith offered compelling evidence-based research about better ways of respond to student papers.  I am eager to adapt my grading in light of their great ideas: respond thoughtfully, respond in summary, and respond with technology.


essay with comment: Try harder!

We are allowed to “tsk” thoughtless correspondents who type their emails in ALL CAPS.  It turns out that students read many of the remarks on their graded papers as all-caps attacks on their identity. Professors who face stacks of essays may quickly dash off marginal notes like “Try harder.”


In the study reported on in this talk, it came to light that students read professor comments through the lens of their own insecurities.  If they had the opportunity to treat the marginal note like an instant message, they might respond with “Don’t yell at me,” or “I was trying.”


If we recall the need to be positive, we might scratch “Good” next to a paragraph, but even this comment could be improved.  Students benefit from explanations of why something is “Weak” or “Excellent” much more than seeing passages simply identified.  These explanations take time, and so it turns out a summary note at the end of the essay makes the most positive impact on students seeking to improve their writing.


In these summaries, it is best to limit comments to three main points students could work on in upcoming drafts or essays.  We could create separate Content and Mechanics summaries, to highlight the points in each category in its own summary.


Grading takes time, and grading kindly takes much, much longer.  The room full of energized instructors offered many options for speeding up the process of grading with summaries.  Some use TurnItIn (or other grading apps) to preset common QuickMark comments that can be dragged to the appropriate point in the digitally submitted essay.  “Bad Citation” in the handwritten grading scenario can turn into a much friendlier, instructive note:


“I’m glad to see you included a citation here.  Always remember to include both the author’s name and the page number, if it is a paper source.  The first element of the works cited entry must be the word that appears in the intext citation so that the reader can quickly leap from this citation to the works cited without having to guess at all. That leap should be as simple as using alphabetical order.”  

Other graders use voice recordings or screen-casting, depending on the content being graded. We might also consider setting up a requirement for students to actually read our grading comments.  Students could be required to summarize feedback and resubmit it as a mini-assignment before we enter the tentative grade.


Grading feels like it takes up a lion’s share of our time as instructors.  It makes sense to make this massive effort as useful as possible as an instructive tool, not just a means of calculating a number.

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