Hello…? Technical Writer ≠ Administrative Assistant

Lately I’ve been thinking about job titles, and how they relate to the actual tasks involved. And then I noticed an online job ad today that got me a bit steamed up.

A large company had posted a job board advertisement for an “Administrative Assistant (Technical Writer)”. I read that and alarm bells started going off in my head. That is just SO wrong.

Now, before I say anything else, just let me state that my comments here in no way disrespect administrative assistants. I’ve been known to say that admins are the key role that keeps an organization from grinding to a halt. A good admin is worth his/her weight in gold. I know because I’ve had some good ones, and I’ve also…well, let’s just say I’ve had some good ones.

Let me also say that the skill set of an administrative assistant overlaps with some of the skills of a technical writer at several points. I consider myself a fairly accomplished MSWord user, but when I run into something that stumps me (and if I can’t find the answer quickly online) I contact the best admin I can find. Nine times out of ten they will have the answer.

On one of my recent projects I hired a young guy as an administrative assistant (knowing he had some skills that went beyond that role) and later promoted him to technical writer. Although he didn’t have formal training in either role, he did a great job in both. So there is some commonality between the roles.

Having said all that, let’s get back to this job ad. It was interesting to see the description of the job duties. They included leading teams, writing a variety of documents, project management, time management, organization skills, and office software skills. True, some of these can be found in an (exceptional) admin, but the admin who took that position would probably rather be classified as a technical writer (and be compensated accordingly).

I don’t know what the company was offering to pay for the position, but I couldn’t help but wonder why they listed the position this way. Was it truly an administrative position? Or was it a tech writer position but they didn’t want to compensate the person as a tech writer? Or was it just an uninformed person who didn’t understand what a technical writer does, or is worth?

I run into that a lot—undervaluing and misunderstanding the role and worth of good technical writing services. To a great extent people just don’t know what a technical writer can do, or the value of their work product. So it’s an ongoing task: educating people and organizations about the role of technical writers, their range of skills and capabilities, and what they can accomplish. I keep trying, and hope that the message will eventually get through.

Hmm…maybe I should have a new job title. How does “technical writing evangelist” sound?  🙂

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