Archive for category Technical Writing
The section of our job description that we either welcome or silently dread—Other Duties as Assigned. It pretty much means that whatever your employer needs you to do, you do it as long as it’s not illegal or immoral. As a technical writer, and depending on the industry in which you work, you may not be able to skirt the issue regarding the tasks you are asked to complete. In other words, there may be no way around it.
But I was hired to write
Yes, you were. While your primary responsibility as a technical writer may be to translate complex information into lay terms, you may also be asked to prepare or create other forms of communication that might include, but may not be limited to, the following:
- meeting minutes
- weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual reports
- personal letters and other basic business communications
I feel like a glorified administrative assistant
I have two responses to this statement: 1) only if that’s how you see yourself, and 2) only if that’s how your employer sees you. How you see your overall contribution is up to you; you can see yourself as a vital cog in the wheel, or the company’s Girl Friday or Man Friday. (I’ll address the dichotomy of these phrases another time.) How your employer and manager see your role in the company is largely out of your control. When management begins restricting your expertise and skills to primarily clerical tasks, I suggest that you seek a common understanding of the situation by speaking with your manager, and sharing your interests and career goals. Don’t try to change their perception of you and your role, as it’s futile. Pick and choose your battles because this one is uphill all the way. Don’t like it? Find somewhere else to work or become an administrative assistant.
Avoid the clerical trap
That’s an easy one; find another job if you don’t like performing clerical tasks. Some technical writers see these tasks as challenges and opportunities to contribute to the company, as well as a means to ensure job security, especially when no one else wants to compile a monthly status report. (I create a similar report for my employer, and while it’s not my favorite task, it’s required for the contract. I do it anyway.)
You have a choice. If you see it as an opportunity, remain aware of what’s going on around you, communicate your career goals, and manage your own personal growth. On the other hand, if taking meeting minutes isn’t your thing, you owe it to yourself and your employer to find another job.
Industries most likely to need clerical assistance
This one is difficult to quantify or qualify, as each industry and project has different requirements. In my experience in both the private sector and government, preparing meeting minutes, project status reports, and personal letters have been part of my responsibilities while working on government contracts. I’ve not been asked to perform these tasks while working in the private sector.
If you’re a technical writer, or thinking about it as a career option, your attitude and how you see yourself are key to longevity. When you find yourself working for an employer that asks you to perform tasks or duties that seem outside the scope of technical writing, consider the following takeaways.
- Maximize opportunities and experience by asking for other assignments and pursuing continued education.
- See yourself as a critical team member, even when you feel excluded or like just another minion.
- Don’t worry about changing things outside your sphere of influence.
- Pursue a common understanding of the situation.
- Communicate your career goals.
- Pick and choose your battles.
Be true to your goals and who you are
Being a technical writer requires you to be flexible, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of your career and who you are. I love what I do, which is why I’m not burned out after 11 years, despite the challenges and others’ attitudes. If you find that it’s not for you after all, administrative assistants can make a very good living in the right industry. Sometimes more than a technical writer.
Copyright 2012 by Lisa Hodson