Help me avoid being outsourced
July 7, 2009 7:46 AM   Subscribe

What would be a good niche for an American technical writer looking to avoid being outsourced to offshore competitors?

I'm currently working as a technical writer for a fortune 50 IT company. I'm seeing more and more writing work being sent to India. I'd been telling myself that writing was safe because even excellent English speakers have subtle writing differences that sound "off" to American ears.

I'm getting less confident though. My company seems willing to accept a certain loss of American "tone" in their documentation. On top of that, I'm starting to see more and more writing from India that is indistinguishable from stuff writing by Americans.

I'm thinking now would be a good time to start thinking ahead. What would be a good niche for an American technical writer? I'm thinking green energy or biotechnology. Does anybody have any experience in either of those fields? What would be a good way to start transitioning? Is it possible to break into those fields without a degree in engineering or biology?

Any other ideas for growing fields (that need technical writers) that will be hard to outsource?
posted by diogenes to Work & Money (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think a good bet would be a corporate research department of any major multinational company. Research/design work would normally be quite dfficult to outsource.

Also, have you looked into the government/public sector work that requires a security classification? That kind of work should be pactically immune to oursourcing.
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 8:05 AM on July 7, 2009

I would imagine that the aerospace and defense sector will be hard press to outsource technical writing
posted by jaimev at 8:06 AM on July 7, 2009

Also, have you looked into the government/public sector work that requires a security classification?

Seconding this. When I had a clearance and was looking for (non-IT) tech writing jobs I was fending off offers from contractors every day trying to convince me that I could do software documentation, no really, how hard could it be? And even government work that does not require a national security clearance often requires American citizenship.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:15 AM on July 7, 2009

Validate your existence and the work that you put forward - secure the quality of what you do.

One of the things I've been examing at work lately deals with customer/product interactions, resulting in my recent pushes advocating for better technical documentation. By laws, companies produce documentation included with their products, but bad documentation translates to a later incurred cost of maintaining more advanced technical support. Documentation that raises technical support costs further down the line, or that technical support technicians do not refer to because it is not laid out logically and/or apply to the customer's situation is effectively useless. As such, for my company at least, we've begun investigating how to include that level of feedback back into the documentation for the product and create more self-reliant customers.

Advocating for testing the effectiveness of the documentation, and determining impact costs of failing to document properly as proper cost saving initiatives is a good start internally in your company. Developing a strategy to leverage folks in ergonomics, industrial engineering, and psychology/sociology to make sure that the documentation is thorough and understandable by all skill-appropriate clients, and then being able to put some level of cost analysis behind it would be a great asset to a forward-looking corporation.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:36 AM on July 7, 2009

Response by poster: work that requires a security classification

That's a good idea. I had been avoiding looking at jobs that require clearance because most of them are in defense, and I'm sort of morally opposed to working in defense. I think I could get over that though ;)

Validate your existence

Wait, are you saying that I'm not entitled to my job because I happened to be born in America? That's crazy talk!

Advocating for testing the effectiveness of the documentation, and determining impact costs of failing to document properly as proper cost saving initiatives

We've got usability people for that, the poor bastards.
posted by diogenes at 9:35 AM on July 7, 2009

Here are a few, somewhat random, thoughts.

I focus on the Energy industry (which includes IT, but also many other things). The problem with this industry is it is up-and-down. Currently, down. I was recently investigating green energy, but found that most of it is either nuclear or wind. In the US, both of these are still in the early days. Elsewhere in the world, nuclear and wind have already been embraced... so the jobs are in other countries right now, at least until we are ready to catch up with them.

What I have done is focus on related fields within my industry. In my case, I'm a technical writer and also an instructional designer. These are very different types of work, but they seem to complement each other.

Other areas of overlap: knowledgebases and wikis supported by communities of practice, user assistance on PDAs and other similar devices, and video replacing text. That means that the tools we use will no longer be Word/FrameMaker/RoboHelp, and maybe that's an area that you can build on now, to be competitive with outsourcing.
posted by Houstonian at 11:42 AM on July 7, 2009

diogenes, i'm at a defense contract & have been doing this on & off for almost 20 years. started out as a tech writer & that often is part of my present job. also had/have the sort of moral indignation that someone like *me* could be working in this industry. however ... it pays pretty damn well, and a friend of mine pointed out to me one time that the job will exist whether i'm the one doing it or it goes to someone else, and that if i'm doing it, at least it might help offset some of the bad military industrial complex vibes being given off. helped calm my bile a bit. i also tell myself it's not too bad because i work on personnel systems, not weapons systems.

i don't know if it's bulletproof, but i work at a site where foreign nationals absolutely can NOT. i don't think you can get a security clearance on your own--you need a sponsor, which is most often your employing company. they cost several hundred dollars (the employer/sponsor picks up the cost) & have to be renewed every so many years. the higher your clearance the more attractive you are to certain employers.

aside from the industry, the downside is that the work can be excruciatingly boring, the federal government works at glacial speed, and the workplace politics can be maddening.

good luck.
posted by msconduct at 11:50 AM on July 7, 2009

The reason the tone may no longer be distinguishable is I've heard it whispered that some American writers are outsourcing themselves to India. Lower cost of living. Ability to save money. Exotic lifestyle. Adventure. And plenty of technical writing work. You would have the advantage in the marketplace due to your mastery of the language and for the very concerns you outlined.
posted by Muirwylde at 2:01 PM on July 7, 2009

Err, why are people opposed to working in defense? Military not a big deal. Starving is.
posted by 1830 at 3:52 PM on July 8, 2009

« Older [Bookfilter] Help me find a book from my mother's...   |   Please help me get rid of audio and add a time... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.