What can LinkedIn tell us about the number of Technical Authors in the UK?

As there are no official statistics recording the number of people employed as Technical Authors in the UK, we have to make some educated guesses to get a sense of the size. Searching LinkedIn might provides some useful information.

In LinkedIn’s advanced search page, if we search the job title field for Technical Author, LinkedIn states there are 5,297 people who match this search. This would include past job titles as well as current job titles. Searching on just current job titles, LinkedIn provides 2,109 results for Technical Author. Searching on just past job titles, LinkedIn provides 2,528 results for Technical Author. It’s not clear why those two figures don’t add up to 5,297.

One of the difficulties is that people use a variety of different job titles. In addition to the 2,109 results for Technical Author, we can add the people who have these current job titles in the UK:

  • Technical Writer – 603
  • Technical Communicator – 28
  • Information Developer –  21
  • Documentation Manager – 394

That makes a total of 3,155.There may be other job titles people are using in addition to these, which would increase the numbers further.

There were over 19 million registered LinkedIn users in the United Kingdom, as of the 3rd quarter of 2015 (source), out of a UK working population of 30 million people (source), which means it’s unlikely every Technical Author has a profile on LinkedIn.

It seems reasonable to conclude there are more than 3,200 Technical Authors in the UK, but possibly not more than 5,000.

Update on training course bookings and places

Happy New Year!

A quick update on the availability of places on our upcoming courses:

We will be scheduling another policies and procedures classroom course. This is likely to be held in February.

How-to books prove popular this Christmas

Although it is said “no-one reads the manual”, a look at Amazon’s list of best selling books shows that how-to books are very popular. It’s a mixture of parody Ladybird “How it works” guides, recipe books, plus this year’s surprise hit, Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way.

Norwegian wood bookHow it works - the husbandJamie Oliver recipe book

We hope you all have an enjoyable time over this Christmas period.

Revisiting “How many technical writers should we have in our organisation?”

We received an email today:

Having read your paper titled ‘How many technical writers should we have in our organisation?’,  I was wondering if you ever did the follow up the final results from you survey as mentioned in the paper and if they are available?

This refers to an article we wrote in 2003, where we looked at research on ‘standard’ ratios between developers and Technical Authors. We said we’d Cherryleaf would be producing a report on the final results from our survey this summer, but we didn’t obtain any new information that needed to be added to our preliminary report.

Have things changed since 2003?

There are some software tools for automating the creation of some API documentation, and organisations that have moved from Microsoft Word to a component-based content management system are likely to need to spend less time on the “look and feel” and formatting of the published content. However, we doubt these have had a major effect on the productivity of technical communicators.

An alternative way to determine the ratio

There is another way to look at the ratio of technical communicators to programmers – one we didn’t discuss in our original report. You could use the job sites to look at the total number of vacancies for programmers and the total number of technical communicators, and generate a rough-and-ready ratio that way.

It’s a rough estimate, because the job sites contain duplicate vacancies (a job can be advertised by more than one agency) and job titles can vary.

Looking at the reed.co.uk site today, there are currently 134 vacancies for Technical Authors and 761 vacancies for Programmers. That suggests a ratio of 17.6% , or roughly one in six technical communicators to programmers.

What do you think?

Please share your comments below.

The lone-liness of the UK Technical Author

We were looking at some of the survey results from the ISTC’s 2015 survey of technical communicators in the UK.

The survey reported:

  • 37.5% of the respondents worked as the sole technical communicator in their organisation.
  • 76% worked in an organisation with six technical communicators or fewer.

This means, in the UK, it’s harder to justify the ROI of large scale content management systems. With less content being created, the benefits may not outweigh the cost of the software. It also means that UK technical communicators need to rely more on resources outside their company if they want to develop with skills and keep up to date with trends.

The ISTC’s next survey is due for release in February 2016. We suspect we’ll find similar findings in that report.

Explaining complicated stuff using simple words

Book coverRandall Munroe’s latest book Thing Explainer will be released tomorrow. In the book, Munroe uses line drawings and only the thousand most common words to provide simple explanations for complicated objects.

It’s good practice to use words that are commonly understood. In some industries, Technical Authors have to write using only a limited list of approved words  (a “controlled vocabulary”). For example, there are controlled vocabularies for aircraft maintenance manuals, because some maintenance engineers have a only limited amount of English.

Sometimes, the word “stuff” doesn’t help the reader to understand. So what do you do when readers need to understand the small differences between objects, particularly when they can have a big effect on what happens next?

XKCD cartoon

In order to write clearly, there are times when you need to use more than the thousand most common words. Technical Authors deal with this issue by using concept, terms and references topics. When they need to use words that some users might not understand, Technical Authors provide a link (or cross reference ) to another topic. This other topic provides an explanation or a definition of the word or concept. The topic can contain words, images, diagrams, animations or videos to help the user grasp the meaning.

It’s good to use simple words, but it’s more important to make sure the information is clear.

Dates for our next advanced technical writing & new trends course

training room

Here are the dates for our next advanced technical writing & new trends course:

  • The next public classroom course will be held on 28th January 2016, at our training centre in central London (SW7).
  • A live Web course, for delegates based outside the UK, will be held on 6 & 7 January 2016 (2 x 3 hour sessions).

Discover the advanced new writing styles emerging in technical communication by attending Cherryleaf’s popular training course. Don’t get left behind: past clients include technical communicators from Citrix, GE, IBM UK, Lloyds Banking Group, Sage plc, Schlumberger, Tekla and Visa International.

See Advanced technical writing & new trends in technical communication training.