Technical Communication: Past and Present


By Tricia Little


When most people think of technical communicators, computers and technical software may be the first things that come to mind. Sure, that may be true now, but it hasnít always been that way. Technical communication has been around for many years and it has been through many software and style changes.


I posted an informal survey online and received about thirty replies from technical writers with an average of 20 years of experience. Their input helped me to compile the following information.


Technical documentation started, in its most basic form, as long hand. Documents were written out in ink or by way of typewriters, with plenty of white out for mistakes. Charts and graphs were constructed with form-a-line tape and sticky sheets of half-tone dots. The finished product had to then be waxed or pasted onto the final copy. Cut and paste was a literal term; sections were cut with scissors and pasted with glue into the spot they needed to go. Everything was done by hand including editing and proofreading.


Computers soon came into the market, drastically changing the way things were preformed. Many of the surveyed technical writers experienced problems with the basic programs, but they all agreed that it made the process easier. Some programs were not even capable of handling upper and lower case letters on the same screen. Fundamental programs such as WordPerfect and Ventura Publisher were a few of the new software technical writers needed to learn, making the job run smoother than ever before. Projects were saved with floppy disks and many of the software programs were known to crash or hang at a moments notice.


As time goes by, things tend to change, sometimes for the better. New software emerged, as did new computers. Gone were the green-screened computer dinosaurs of the past and in were the new-aged computers boasting programs such as Microsoft Windows, Visio, and the Internet. Windows, in the early years, provided word-processing with minimal other options. It was known to crash and some of the elements were hard to understand. As Microsoft upgraded, Windows followed suit and got better and better with each new version. Visio took over the element of design with its user-friendly components and loads of images. The Internet also added a new aspect of design, not to mention changed the technical communication world as it was. Online documentation was in high demand and businesses and corporations began hiring technical writers by the hordes to write help documents. RoboHelp soon came into play as a help guide for writing online help documentations.


Salary also changed with the times. Many tech writers started off making around $20,000 to $40,000 a year. The online survey shows that salaries have been steadily increasing, with a minor glitch in the late 1990ís due to the bubble. Still, many technical writers have confirmed that their wages have either doubled or, in some cases, even tripled from when they first started.   


Technical communication has been around for many years, even though it has become well known in the past one hundred. Jobs are steadily increasing, along with salaries, and software is becoming increasingly specialized. The processes, software, and salaries may change, but one thing remains the same. The need for knowledge continues to grow as will the use for technical communicators.





On Tuesday, October 12th, I posted an informal survey on I asked the following five questions and I received about 30 replies within 24 hours. I have summarized the responses below.


  1. How long have you been a technical communicator?

 19.48 years (on average)

  1. Have you noticed changes in software programs that you use? Explain

Old times included; typewriters, Vax computers, long hand, WordPerfect, EasyFlow, Ventura Publisher, markup languages like scribe and troff. Computer programs often crashed or froze. New age includes; Microsoft programs, Windows, Internet, Visio, PowerPoint, markup languages include HTML and XML. Computer programs are fast and capable of creating many new things.

  1. Have you noticed a change in salary? Explain briefly.

Salaries have been steadily increasing with the exception of the bubble in the late 1990ís. One writer went from 13Kto 60K in 21 years and a couple tech writers wrote that their salaries have tripled since they began.                                        

  1. Do the tasks that you complete now vary from what you did when you
    began working in this field? Explain briefly.

Some said that the tasks really havenít changed much, just the way they go about completing the tasks. One reported that the support staff, typists, WP operators, and illustrators, have been pretty much erased and the tech writer does it all themselves. Some said that the job has become much less limited.

  1. How many times have you changed jobs or relocated?

The average writer experienced seven and a half job changes with 0.5 relocations.


The tech writers that filled out this survey were from all over the world, with majority being in various cities around the United States.