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Dear Colleagues: Thanks to all who responded to my informal survey.
Here, as requested, are the results of my "call for help" about technical
writing department structures/hierarchies. I tried to e-mail personal
thanks to everyone who responded, but my Internet access was unavailable
for a few days and I lost track of my mail. If I didn't respond to you
personally, please accept my thanks now. The comments I received were all
very thoughtful and helpful.
BTW, I did not say so in my original request for info, but the reason I am
trying to implement a hierarchy w/pay grades is because I found out that
the pay grade for TWs at my company is the same the pay grade for admin.
assistants. While I do not wish to belittle the skills/training of AAs, I
do think that TWs deserve better pay/status (after all, we constantly deal
with employes/coworkers who think we are secretaries). Besides that, at my
company, TWs are required to have a four-year degree; AAs are not required
to have any college, although it helps. (The pay grade for TWs and
AAs ranges from about 20K to 30K, US dollars.)
(My comments are framed with asterisks.)
Three levels: Associate Tech Writer, Tech Writer, Senior Tech Writer.
This person said he came in as an ATW, even with four years of experience.
Skills: ATWs need basic writing and editing skill, including writing-tool
knowledge. TWs must also have specific application knowledge of company
products, while STWs "have been here awhile" and do some project-lead
Educational requirements: The writers have various degrees (English,
journalism). One writer was a secretary; another has a certificate in
Advancement: Mostly through tenure
Opinions about hierarchy: Doesn't necessarily disapprove, but notes that
"as a rule," managers don't know how to recognize good tech writing.
Consequently believes that tenure, rather than merit, is a stronger factor
This writer warns against the use of "junior technical writer"; prefers
"associate" because "junior" makes him think of Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter.
Associate: Does rewrites, updates, etc. Usually under guidance.
Writer: Writes books and does updates, but usually under the guidance of
Senior Writer: Has ownership of books and projects.
Project Leader: Coordinates entire doc and/or product sets. Has some
supervisory authority over other writers on the project.
Level Titles: I, II, III
Skills/Experience: A new employee with little or no industry experience
comes in at Level I. Can move to Level II "with increased experience or an
excellent end of year review." People at Levels II and III move up when
they are "expert at the task or have MANY years of experience."
A writer *can* be hired in at Level II or III.
I'm noticing some differences regarding new employee levels. Seems like
some companies start new writers, even those with experience, at an
associate level, while other companies assign levels based on previous
Duties: All require writing, research, ability to learn new software tools
and new technology, managing review cycles, working with editors.
Education: BS or BA required at all levels. MA is a plus but not required
at any level.
Advancement: through "appropriate length of experience"
Duties and Experience:
Associates (<l yr. exp.) work with "close supervision"
TWs (2-5 yrs. exp.) work with "general supervision"
Seniors (5-9 yrs. exp.) work with "minimal supervision and contributed an
area of expertise to the group"
Principals (8+ yrs exp.) work with "virtually no supervision and did
'research' into new areas"
Opinions (issued with a "strong opinion warning"): "I have a basic
disagreement with the idea of 'career path" as described by a hierarchy .
. . It's so narrow that it does a disservice to both employer and
employee. . . . Many writers vent frustration about not being able to
exercise our skills in usability, project planning and management, course
development, making presentations . . . And there's always the issue of
not getting enough professional respect. . . . Job descriptions and career
paths should have references to other departments within a company . . .
An official description that recognizes skills learned in one dept. as
being valuable in another dept. and *to the business/organization as a
whole* benefits everyone."
This writer previously worked in an "extremely stratified company and
department" that had around eleven writers. No one could move up a level
until the person above them had moved up." As a result, she was doing
increasingly more difficult work but could not step up to a higher level
and better pay. She is now at a company that gives raised on merit, not on
Ouch! The first company sounds like a real sweatshop. I'm glad this
person found something better.
This TW didn't provide details about titles, levels, etc., but had some
strong opinions about hierarchies. I agree with most of these opinions,
BTW, but will continue to push for a level-system at my company for two
reasons: (1) right now, we TWs are at the same pay grade as secretaries;
and (2) programmers/developers have a way to advance to higher
levels/higher pay, so why shouldn't TWs?
FINAL, GENERAL COMMENTS: Sorry this <ahem> "summary" was so long. But I
didn't want to take someone's remarks out of context (and if I did that
anyway, please let me know and I'll try to clear things up). If anyone
wishes to continue this thread, or respond by e-mail, go ahead and jump
right in. I'm still doing research and could always use the input!