What do you get paid for?

Within the last 18 months, I’ve had a chance of making some new friends. And, just as any usual conversation begins, one of the first few questions is about what I do for a living. The more I try to explain what I do, the harder it becomes for them to understand. “So, basically you write, right?” “Well, yes.” “But, what do you do to get paid?” The answer is difficult for them to relate to. “So, you get paid for writing about your product. Good; sounds interesting!” Writing, as I’ve realized, is leisure, passive activity for a lot of them.

If I really understand it correctly, and I know I do, writing about the product is NOT what I get paid for. On the contrary, writing is the next best means of communication (after verbal communication). But, is it that only writing helps tech communicators – like us – get paid? Or, is it anything else? I try to find out the answer for such questions through this post.

Writing about a product is easy. The one thing that mostly centers your technical communication strategy is product features. But then is it really only the ‘writing about the features’ that helps you get paid? Absolutely not! Feature-centric writing is all fine, but it does not connect you to the readers. Technical communication, as I’ve often observed, can be used to design effective brand communications; and, I know that I am not the only one who feels that way.

During my first job, as a correspondent, my primary responsibility was to bring out the weekly local supplement for our national newspaper. I wrote for the local supplement on a regular basis; and, on most occasions got hands-on reviews from my editors, who would provide constructive feedback, constructively. That helped me apply what I learned as a Marketing graduate. But, not everyone is that lucky. Most of us receive a constructive feedback in a not-so-constructive manner.

Contrary to the first job where I received quality feedback, it has been difficult to collect even the basic information in my current profile as a technical communicator. The subject matter experts (SMEs) are always busy, and the product managers make our tasks difficult by interacting in their ultra-technical lingo. Everything is comparatively easier only after you get to know (and work on) the product. But, the point is that you must take those steps on your own. Again, the sense of ownership of bringing an entire issue on my own (during my first job) has helped me earn accolades amongst my fellow SMEs and managers. The accolades still don’t help me get paid though.

One thing that links the contrast of demands of my previous job (as a local correspondent) with the expectations of my current profile (as a technical communicator) is that as a catalyst to communication, I make sure that I connect my product features with its benefits for my readers. I use this feature-benefit equation to connect to my reader. So, I get paid for not writing about the product, but telling you how its [documented] features can help bring you the lasting benefits. As a technical communicator, I make sure that I am at the center of your communications strategy and that I become equipped with good vocabulary, ideally know as much about the products as do the SMEs, and walk in the shoes of my customers (or readers). It’s a challenging, time-consuming (at times repetitive), never-ending, and ever-tiring task; but it still is exciting, encouraging, and ever-evolving.

It is this task that I do for a living.

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