How many technical authors are there in the UK?

The profession of Technical Author in the UK is yet to be recognised as a distinct profession under the UK Standard Industrial Classification of Economic Activities, so it’s very hard to determine how many people work as Technical Authors.

One way of estimating the number of Technical Authors may be by looking at statistics from the USA. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook now includes details on technical writers, and it estimates there are 48,900 technical writers employed in the USA.

According to the World Bank, the UK economy is 18.66% the size of the USA ($2.13 Trillion, compared to $14.2 Trillion). So, if we assume the UK and USA economies are comparable, then we can estimate there are (48,900 x 18.66%) 9,100 Technical Authors in the UK.

Alternatively….

The Australian Bureau of Statistics also recognises Technical Authors as a profession (the classification is 212415 “Technical Writer”),  and estimates there are 2,115 employed in Australia (Source: Table 1 – ASCO Second Edition to ANZSCO First Edition – Australia). By using the GDP calculation again ($1.02 Trillion, compared to $2.13 Trillion), our estimate becomes 4,416 UK Technical Authors.

So perhaps we can estimate the number being between 4,500 and 9,000.

6 Comments

Colum McAndrew

I’m not sure you can compare like for like. As you say the profession in the UK is not as widely recognised as in the US. It is my experience that companies in the UK that employ Technical Writers are large, US or technology companies. I believe there are around 1000 members of the ISTC, then you have the STC members and those who don’t belong to anything.

ellis

I agree these are rough and ready figures. I think the ISTC has a membership of between 700-800 members, and the STC UK chapter has 120 members.

ellis

If you do a search for “Technical Author” on the biggest job vacancy Web site in the UK, it returns 744 CVs. However, it only serarches the CVs of people who have logged in within the last 12 months.

Karen

I ask the same question here in Denmark. There are technical writers here, especially in multinational companies like Microsoft. I am not sure whether there is language segregation. Techwriters.dk has moved to LinkedIn now where it is a tad more active, but discussions are mostly in Danish (not a problem for me), which excludes any expat tech writers.

I get blank looks when I tell people I am a technical writer, and intensely blank looks when I say “technical communicator”. I – cringe – wrap up by saying my profession is the one who writes the guide to using your video machine.

We are simply invisible, and I don’t need to tell you what that means for recognition in the workplace or salary negotiations.

I do discover people with vastly different titles who reveal that part of their job is “writing manuals”. It’s not a case of moving into the next century of tech writing where they merge different fields. It sounds more like a case of no one else would write them so they have been stuck with it. An afterthought, if you will. I sense a large group like this who don’t care about well-crafted content, minimalism, editing, usability, styles, standards, etc. because it is not their main focus.

This, in turn, seems to lead to the attitude that all they need is some glorified secretary to tidy things up.

This is all speculation on my part. I am currently job hunting, and I am more interested in finding something new and different where I also can flaunt my tech comm skills and make them wonder how they lived without them until now. In other words, I’m ready to morph into the next generation of tech comm, and I have spoken to others who seem to feel the same. We are burdened with our past – a CV listing tech writing jobs is meaningless. I’ve revamped my CV accordingly.

Now I think it is the employers who are stuck in the past. They look for titles, not the skills, and unfamiliar titles get ignored. Times are changing, but unevenly. I do believe visibility is crucial to raising employer awareness about the enormous resources in those who dabble in what is called “technical communication”. I wrote to the Ministry of Labour here in Denmark, telling them about the work of the BLS. They have not yet replied….

Onward and upward! 🙂

Jonathan Roberts

Interesting discussions! I work in a very large IT company that used to make computers and has 150 TAs. Today there are probably less then 10 in the company though there is always work for people who can write and organise information logically and clearly. I am on secondment writing pre-qualification questionnaires – the first stage in the bid cycle, so there are always opportunities to do the same thing but in a different field.

Clare

I am a US-based technical writer who has worked primarily with a UK company for over 10 years. I was originally brought on to write user documentation in ‘US English’ but my role in the company has changed significantly over the years. I’ve been very happy with my position sort of ‘crossing the pond’. Now if only I could remember which way we spell ‘labour’ in the US!

This is an interesting link to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics job outlook for US technical writers: http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos319.htm It looks like there’s hope…

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