Seven Deadly Sins of Tech Writing Burnout

Editor’s Note: The following piece by Liz Russell is part of our collection of “classics”–articles that stand the test of time no matter how many technologies come and go.

Beware the need for a vacation when the normally exciting and always rewarding nature of your technical writing job begins to lead you astray:

  1. Your pride becomes fragile. When someone asks what you do for a living, you lie. You no longer have the energy to defend your work against comments such as, “Manuals…I never read them,” or “Why do all instructions suck?”
  2. You envy other positions in your organization and foster over-simplified views of coworkers’ responsibilities. Sales is easy; salespeople don’t have to understand the product, they just have to sell it. Customer service is a piece of cake; all they have to do is answer the phone all day.
  3. You find relief from technical tedium only in gluttony. Snack machines, leftovers from client visits, and birthday cakes from office celebrations frequently lure you from your cubicle. When your mouth is full, you can forget about crafting grammatically correct and technically accurate sentences.
  4. You lust after lexicons and dream of becoming verbose. You long to use different ways to write common phrases. “Click OK” becomes, “When the spirit moves you, depress the OK button to move on to your next challenge.”
  5. You are frequently angry with subject matter experts. Desires to throttle the smart-alecks often become so strong you have to excuse yourself from meetings.
  6. You grow greedy. Your compensation pales in comparison with the demands on your talents. You dream of bonuses and haunt salary surveys on the Web. No amount of money seems fair compensation for the amount and type of work you do.
  7. You become slothful in your instructions. Wondering why you have to explain every little thing in so much detail, you lazily gloss over large amounts of technical information. You figured out the product on your own, so why can’t your audience?

Find yourself committing these sins? It’s time to repent.  Just call your travel agent and book yourself into a holy spot on a beach or a distant ski slope.

Liz Russell is a freelance writer based in Andover, Massachusetts. She specializes in online help systems and Web site content and is a regular contributor to the Equine Journal. Liz can be reached at

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