Con.text

Technical Writers Increasingly In Demand in Business

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Lyndsay Steffler, Technical Writing Instructor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyndsay Steffler has been an instructor in the Technical Writing Extension Certificate for 8 years. A graduate of MRU’s Applied Bachelor of Communications – Technical Writing program in 2002, she has worked at WestJet for 10 years. She has three children aged 3, 6 and 8, and balances her full-time job and part-time teaching with family life.

Q: What is your background in technical writing?
A: After graduating from Mount Royal I wasn’t sure I wanted to do technical writing as a profession; I was going into PR. But I wound up getting really deep into it. I started as an editor at West Jet and kept going from there. I really enjoy it and I’ve now been with West Jet for 10 years. A couple years later I came into a teaching role with Continuing Education because of my connection with the administration at Mount Royal.

Q: What changes have you seen in the field of technical writing? 
A: During my career I’ve seen that, rather than focusing solely on policies and procedures, technical writing is bridging with business analysis. We’re working to understand what a position does and what is needed to make it more efficient. Technical writers take all of that information and process it to make improvements. But technical writing still centres mainly on policies, procedures and processes.

Q: What kind of person would be suited to this career?
A: This is a communications field, so you’re not just sitting behind your computer. I spend half my time working with people, talking to them to understand their business function. The other half of the time is writing that up. People who do well in technical writing have great interpersonal skills and are able to communicate complex things in a clear and concise manner.

Q: Are there any myths about this industry that you have to clarify for your students?
A: People tend to think that technical writers can work from home. But because this role is so interactive most technical writers are integrated into the office. Even if we get contracts, it’s for an in-house contract role. The work-from-home jobs do exist but most technical writers are on site.

Q: Is there something that people ask you frequently? Something people should know about the profession?
A: The biggest question I am asked is how much we get paid. It comes up every semester. Wages really vary, depending on your work experience.

Technical writing is a function that’s beginning to gain ground in business. There were only eight of us in my graduating class. There aren’t a lot of professional technical writers out there. Technical writing originally wasn’t recognized as a profession unto itself. It used to be combined with engineering. The thinking was that the subject matter experts should document their own information. But more and more, technical writing is gaining value in the eyes of business leaders.

Q: Where do we see the products of technical writing?
A: Technical writers write business policies and procedures, as well as business processes. There are technical writers in finance and annual reports are a big piece of what they do. A really big technical writing function is software documentation.

The way I put it to people is, you know the “for dummies” series? That is technical writing. I tell my students that technical writing is teaching on paper. You’re teaching someone how to do something, but you do it on paper, not in the classroom.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of teaching for you?
A: The students really make this job worth coming to. Everyone is nervous at the beginning of the semester but by the end of it the group gels so well. I enjoy when my students contact me after the course to tell me about their job interviews. I see their successes and I just love that I’m a tiny part of it.

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