Future Business Fields for Technical Writers

Here’s the good news: the need for good writers will only increase in the future.

The bad news? The “traditional” careers–technical writer, editor, teacher, communications manager–will become increasingly rare in the next 5-10 years.

But let’s go back to the good news. The internet is going to be all about content. The technology used for creating and displaying content is constantly changing, which means you’ll need to stay current on your technology skills. However, the need to make high-quality, well-written or well-thought-out content. Where will this content come from? What audiences will it serve?

  • Gaming: This is a fiction-writing friend of mine’s favorite future career. Video games, in addition to becoming more visually realistic, are requiring increasingly sophisticated story lines as well. While the violent first-person-shooter games are the most popular and well-known video games, others are offering gamers complex puzzles and socially challenging stories. And since there is a certain amount of player freedom in these imagined “worlds,” that means the writer must be able to imagine multiple “endings” or consequences to player decisions.
  • Modeling and Simulations: This is a similar line of work to video games–both in graphical and storyline form–but with the specific goal of teaching the participant rather than giving a player a new high score. High-reality, immersive simulations or artificial environments are being used by the military, academia, and the private sector to train employees on how to cope with new or uncertain environments. Even if there is no “story” in a simulation, per se, the participants are still expected to learn specific skills or experience certain stimuli that point them in the direction their employer wants them to go.
  • Commercial Space Ventures: This is a personal favorite of mine. As commercial activities to Earth orbit (and beyond!) expand, these activities will increasingly need professional communicators to develop products for their technical, business development, and crew/passenger operations.
  • Biotechnology, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Nanotechnology: Outside of space exploration, there are other technologies being developed for use here on Earth. Biotechnology (or just “biotech”) involves manipulating life forms from viruses and bacteria up to plants, animals, and even humans at the cellular or genetic level. Robotics deals with machines designed to replace or substitute for human activities. Artificial intelligence goes beyond current programming for your cell phone or personal computer–it is the effort to develop machines that can simulate human reasoning. Nanotechnology involves developing materials or machines that are designed at the molecular or atomic level–or machines that can actually operate at the molecular level. This constellation of technologies aspires to kill cancer or repair materials at the atomic level, but could just as easily be applied to harm at that level. It’s exciting, mind-blowing, and sometimes spooky stuff. Regardless of what you call it, any or all of these technologies could change human society as fundamentally as computers have. If you want to get in on the ground floor of any of these lines of business, they will undoubtedly need documents produced…but they also will need people conversant in the field. Some education or familiarity with the subject matter(s) will be a must.
  • Government: While your attitude on the matter might vary, the fact remains that the size and scope of government are growing at all levels. If government isn’t researching a technology or field of human endeavor, it is seeking to define it, regulate it, or publicize it–all activities which require technical writers to find the appropriate words and communicate clearly. Believe it or not, writing in “plain language” is the law of the land. Given that law, and the complexity of today’s laws and regulations, it is more important than ever that businesses and individuals be able to read them without a lawyer present.
  • Utilities & Basic Services: While all this high-tech stuff is cool, water will still need to be pumped, fuel will still need to be delivered, garbage will still need to be collected, and electricity will still need to be produced to keep civilization functioning. As technology advances, even basic services like water filtration will change to meet new challenges or integrate new technologies.
  • Advertising, Marketing, Tourism, Hospitality, and Entertainment:How many roadside signs or newspaper ads have you seen that were just flat-out misspelled? How many times have you twitched at an ad that used “your” being used in place of “you’re?” I myself am notorious for pointing out misspellings in restaurant menus. Some people might not think this sort of thing matters, but others, of a more sensitive disposition, might read a misspelled menu and think, “If they can’t even get the food on the menu spelled correctly, what are the odds that they’ll get their recipes correct?” You think I’m kidding? Count the typos in your next menu and contemplate the matter.Another always-important area is advertising copywriting. Can you turn a phrase well to entice someone to want to buy a product or service?
  • Politics/Policy: As government gets involved in more and more technology-related subjects, it is more important than ever that both elected officials and the voting public be educated ethically on the state and implications of new technologies. I got my master’s thesis on this topic, so I have a few ideas on the subject. Regardless of your affiliation or cause, if you have a passion for it, you should have a passion for making certain that your or your chosen advocacy organization’s positions are stated in a clear, compelling, and correct manner. 
  • The Unknown and Unexpected: Depending on which article you read, you are likely to hear that many or most of the “Dow 30” companies in existence today are based upon or using technologies that did not exist 100 years ago…sometimes 10 years ago. Sometimes much less. So the pace of technology continues to advance, and with it the number of technologies and niches calling for clear communication skills.

The bottom line here is that individuals seeking technical communication careers need not fear about their ability to find a job. Even general-purpose English Lit majors should be able to find ways to pay the bills, even if they don’t involve teaching English Comp 101 (God help you) or writing the Great American Novel.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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