Eva Brumberger and Claire Lauer, Arizona State University
Purpose: This article investigates technical/professional communication job postings in two non-US markets in order to develop an evidence-based understanding of the ways in which job requirements and responsibilities may differ from those in the US.
Method: We analyzed 474 job postings in India and the United Kingdom/Ireland. We conducted a content analysis of the postings, coding for information products, technologies, professional competencies, and personal characteristics. We compared postings to postings for the US, utilizing ANOVA and CHI square measures to evaluate whether differences in the data were meaningful.
Results: The study reveals substantial variation regarding employer expectations. US postings are characterized by higher experience levels and more qualifications than postings for the international markets, with greater focus on user documentation and reports, working with SMEs, usability/testing, technology, and personal characteristics. The Indian postings are the most distinct from the US positions, with differing experience levels and emphasis on what qualifications are important.
Conclusion: The study emphasizes a need for greater understanding of international technical communication and the ways outsourcing may impact career choices. The variation across markets suggests that we cannot assume standard practices in the US transcend linguistic, geographical, and cultural boundaries. This is important both for meeting the challenges of outsourcing and for international collaborations more broadly. The study also highlights the need for curricula to address the complexities of a global workplace by providing students with both technical communication and intercultural competencies.
Keywords: outsourcing, international, core competencies, India, United Kingdom/Ireland
- Extends studies that have examined core competencies for the field by analyzing job requirements in two important international technical communication markets.
- Provides evidence-based understanding of professional competencies, personal characteristics, information products, and technologies sought after by employers in India, a key outsourcing market.
- Extends the literature on globalization and outsourcing within technical communication by providing data that can support successful global collaborations and professional interactions.
- Provides empirical data for practitioners addressing the challenges of outsourcing, as well as for academic programs engaged with preparing graduates for the complexities of a global workplace.
Fast and relatively inexpensive global communication has created numerous opportunities for the field of technical communication. Foremost among these is that it facilitates user-centered information development that can happen regardless of the physical location of both the writer and the user. It allows for the convenience of remote work and for productive collaborations that would have been unfeasible, if not impossible, even 15 years ago. Partly as a result of these developments, the technical communication workforce is now globally distributed, through United States companies and organizations with international offices and through companies that are based solely in other countries, with no US presence. However, communication flexibility and ease of access to a global workforce have also introduced new challenges for US technical communicators, not the least of which is outsourcing.
Although scholars have examined various facets of the globalization of technical communication, including issues related specifically to outsourcing, there is little research focused on what technical communication actually looks like in international professional contexts. Yet, this knowledge is vital to successful global collaborations and is essential for practitioners in the US and internationally, as they attempt to forge career paths that respond to outsourcing trends.
The goal of our project is to develop an evidence-based understanding of technical communication job requirements and responsibilities in international contexts. We report the findings of an analysis of 474 industry job postings from two English-speaking international markets: the United Kingdom/Ireland and India. We then compare the international data to findings from an analysis of over 900 US job ads (Brumberger & Lauer, 2015). The international study results emphasize the range of abilities required of professional communicators in English-speaking international contexts, but, more importantly, the data highlight intersections and divergences with comparable data for US jobs that may be linked to cultural patterns and practices. The findings have implications for US and international practitioners, as well as for academic programs.
Hackos and Hackos (2008) argue that technical communicators need to develop strategies for overcoming international competition. Some of the methods they suggest include single-sourcing and content management, utilizing technology to reduce production costs, and even managing hiring practices and salary increases to keep costs down. Increasing workflow efficiency seems essential irrespective of outsourcing, given the ever-shifting ground of economic downturns, corporate mergers, and competitive markets. However, utilizing interns and “lower cost staff” (p. 119) as cost-reduction measures serves as its own form of outsourcing and ultimately undermines the value and status of technical communication.
A more sustainable strategy—and one that addresses globalization more broadly—is for technical communicators to re-envision their roles. Faber and Johnson-Eilola (2002) contend that a global information economy “requires technical communicators who are constantly reunderstanding and re-presenting their own value in both conceptual and applied ways” (p. 141). Melton (2008) asserts that outsourcing is “an opportunity for technical communicators to redefine themselves and find new applications for their abilities” (p. 124). And yet, on what should we base this redefinition? Put differently, what information can we use to support efforts to reconsider and re-present our value in a global information economy?
As St.Amant (2011) suggests, it is essential to develop an understanding of the ways linguistic and cultural factors, as well as education and training, can shape international technical communication practices. For example, several scholars have commented on language issues in outsourced technical communication produced in India—issues that may stem primarily from the differences between Indian English and US English (see, e.g., Roy & Grice, 2010; Abel, 2013). However, linguistic factors are arguably the most straightforward issues to address; cultural factors are more complicated.
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, although they are not without critics, have served as a longstanding starting point for understanding cultural values that play a role in behavioral patterns. Hofstede (2001) posits five dimensions: individualism/collectivism, power distance, masculinity/femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long/short-term orientation. Individualism and collectivism focus on the relationships between the individual and groups within a culture. In a highly individualistic culture, the focus is on the individual; decisions are made based on individual needs and preferences, self-reliance is highly valued, and individual achievement is seen as more important than group harmony. Power distance refers to the degree to which people expect and accept an unequal distribution of power; in a high power distance culture, top-down hierarchical structures are typical. The masculinity/femininity dimension refers to a cultural preference for achievement and assertiveness (masculine) vs. cooperation and modesty (feminine), while uncertainty avoidance reflects how members of a culture react to uncertainty and ambiguity. Finally, short- versus long-term orientation refers to the way in which a culture prioritizes immediate challenges or future goals.
Cultural factors also include workplace practices that are shaped by these broader patterns. Because writing is culturally situated (Jeyaraj, 2005)—dependent both upon the writer’s culture and upon the writer’s understanding of the user’s culture—this becomes a critical issue for outsourced technical communication. Barnum (2011) notes that cultural patterns can interfere with the effectiveness of international email communication; it stands to reason that this extends to other forms of technical communication as well, particularly forms for which the end-user is less well-defined.
Although underlying cultural factors are central to workplace and communication patterns, some of the issues raised in the outsourcing literature may stem as much from differences in the training of technical communicators in different markets. For example, in the UK, technical communication has been recognized as a field for some time. The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC)—comparable to the Society for Technical Communication in the US—was formed in 1972 from three pre-existing related organizations. In addition to publishing technical communication books, a monthly newsletter, and a quarterly journal, the ISTC offers professional development opportunities that include an annual conference, accreditation of training courses, and a mentoring structure (istc.org.uk). The UK and Ireland also have some academic programs in technical communication and related areas. For instance, the University of Limerick offers both a graduate certificate and a master’s degree in technical communication, while other academic institutions offer programs in closely related areas, such as communication and applied linguistics, science communication, communication design, and translation studies.
In contrast, technical communication as a field was relatively unknown in India before the 1990s, and therefore is less established than it may be in other markets (Sathe, 2009). As a result, Indian technical writers have fewer opportunities to develop professional competencies. Although there is a post-graduate diploma available at the University of Pune (Pandit, 2011), and the academic offerings continue to grow, there are as yet no degree programs dedicated specifically to technical communication, so Indian students seeking such a degree must have the means and the English proficiency to complete a degree online or in another country. Most technical communication training in India instead happens through participation in professional organizations such as Technical Writers of India, through on-the-job mentoring, and through short courses offered by private institutes (Roy & Grice, 2010; Evia, 2008; Natarajan & Pandit, 2008; Padmanabhan, 2011). On-the-job mentoring is, of course, how many technical communicators—not only those in India—layer new knowledge on top of the foundational skillset they bring to a position. However, as Roy and Grice (2010) point out, “Such training might be highly organization-specific and overly specialized to fit specific types of projects” (p. 219); this becomes problematic when the technical communicator lacks a broader grounding in the field, whether that is gained through experience or academic training. The training programs available through private institutes in India likewise do not provide a conceptual or theoretical foundation in technical communication, but instead are very tools-oriented (Evia, 2008). Evia reports that “These programs range from one-day courses to six-month seminars, and most of them focus on teaching editing functions of Microsoft Word. There is very little content about communication or writing theory” (p. 40)—content that forms the backbone of effective technical communication. Indeed, Padmanabhan contends that the situation in India “mirrors the growth of technical communication in the United States before the advent of formal education programs in the field” (p. 52).
As this brief overview suggests, linguistic, cultural, and educational factors all impact international technical communication; an in-depth understanding of these areas can serve as a foundation for technical communicators seeking to redefine their value and reimagine potential career paths in a global information economy. In order to build on that foundation, however, the field needs research that examines how these aspects manifest themselves in the international workplace. For example, we have little research on technical communication practices in the UK, although it is a significant international market. Likewise, although India is the largest outsourcing market for US technical communication, “scholarly research on writing and technical communication in the Indian subcontinent is almost nonexistent” (Natarajan & Pandit, 2008, p. 12).
Melton (2008) argues that technical communicators “who can help organizations solve the communication challenges of outsourcing will be highly valued, whether they come from within the organization or are hired from the outside” (p. 124). Ultimately, solving those challenges requires empirical data that illustrate how technical communication in outsourcing markets compares to that in other international markets and in the US. Are there measurable differences in training and experience levels of technical communicators? In employer expectations of knowledge, skills, and workplace practices? And, if there are differences in these areas, what opportunities might they create for technical communicators both within the US and internationally? These are the questions our study seeks to answer.
In order to answer the broader questions posed above, we began with four more granular questions about international technical communication practices:
- What genre knowledge is important to technical communication employers in non-US markets?
- What technology skills do non-US employers expect of technical communicators?
- What professional competencies and personal characteristics are necessary for technical communicators in non-US markets?
- How do the products, technology skills, professional competencies, and personal characteristics called for in each of the international markets compare to one another and to those called for in US jobs?
We subsequently narrowed the questions even further by focusing only on English-speaking markets, specifically Australia, Canada, India1, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. We focused on these markets for three reasons. First, we needed a manageable scope for the study, in terms of collecting and interpreting the jobs data; we lacked the resources to effectively and efficiently translate job information from other languages. Second, these markets include two centers of international technical communication activity—the UK and India—which provide a broad basis for comparison and, even more importantly, a basis that includes both Western and Eastern perspectives. Finally, and most significantly, one of these markets—India—remains a key destination for the outsourcing of US technical communication.
There are a variety of ways to study the kinds of work technical communicators do on the job, including surveying and interviewing technical communicators and managers, or conducting ethnographic observations. However, when dealing with multiple markets separated by vast physical space and cultural customs, it would be very difficult to systematically measure and compare requirements, practices, and expectations through surveys or site visits. Such a comparison requires consistent and detailed sampling that job advertisements are especially good at providing. Thus, our study utilized a methodology previously developed to examine comparable data for US technical communication jobs (Brumberger & Lauer, 2015; Lanier, 2009). One limitation of this approach is, of course, that we cannot be certain that job postings accurately reflect the tasks and responsibilities of the job. However, even though the postings cannot capture the subtleties of day-to-day practices that field research may provide, they do reveal hiring patterns, and from those hiring patterns, we can infer patterns in workplace practices.
We selected Monster.com as the job posting collection site for several reasons. First, we wanted to use only one job search site within each region, in order to minimize the likelihood of duplicate postings, since companies often advertise the same job in multiple places. We also wanted to utilize the same job search site across all regions, in order to reduce the possibility of errors introduced by differences in design and structure across sites. And finally, we wanted a job search site that would return the highest volume of job postings. At the time of data collection, Monster.com and Indeed.com were the two most prominent job search sites with postings for all of the regions we were looking at. A preliminary search with multiple job titles suggested that Monster.com was the best choice in terms of the overall volume of technical communication postings.
For search terms (see Table 1), we drew on job titles identified in US jobs research (Brumberger & Lauer, 2015). However, because job titles are not always consistent across countries, we first conducted a pilot search to ensure that the US job titles were utilized in each of the markets and to determine whether additional search terms were needed. Based on the preliminary search, we added two new job titles to the search terms: bid writer and technical author.
Table 1. Job title search terms
Front End Designer
Front End Developer
Social Media Consultant
Social Media Coordinator
Social Media Developer
Social Media Manager
Social Media Specialist
Social Media Writer
Web Content Administrator
Web Content Analyst
Web Content Architect
Web Content Coordinator
Web Content Designer
Web Content Developer
Web Content Editor
Web Content Manager
Web Content Producer
Web Content Specialist
Web Content Strategist
Web Content Writer
We collected approximately 600 international job postings in a one-month period from October to November of 2014, and then culled any duplicate postings, as well as postings that were not clearly for technical/professional communication positions. We considered screening out postings from multi-national companies—that is, companies with operations in multiple countries. However, because many technical communication jobs are advertised through agencies, and because company details in the postings are often quite limited, this was not feasible. Additionally, the inclusion of postings from multi-national companies would be more likely to flatten differences observed across regions rather than exaggerate them, so including these postings was unlikely to result in “false positives”—in data that showed differences where there were none.
We ultimately decided to omit the data from Australia and Canada, because there were too few jobs posted to allow for reliable analyses: There were only 29 postings for Australia and 27 for Canada. Although there was a similarly low number of job postings for Ireland, initial analyses revealed no substantive differences between the 20 postings for Ireland and the 196 postings for the UK. Thus, we were able to combine the data for the UK and Ireland, treating them as one region; in the sections that follow, we refer to the combined region as UK-IR. This process left us with a total of 474 job postings in two regions: 258 in India and 216 in the UK-IR.
We analyzed the 474 international job postings for the same variables examined in previous research on job postings in the US (Brumberger & Lauer, 2015). That is, for each job posting, we recorded the position title, industry sector, experience level, and education level requested. We also noted the information products (e.g. reports, user guides, etc.) that new hires would be producing and the technology skills (e.g., software) needed. We then conducted a content analysis (see Huckin, 2004) of the job descriptions, coding for professional competencies and personal characteristics expected of applicants. Competencies are concrete professional abilities, such as editing and project management, while personal characteristics are more abstract traits, such as critical thinking, flexibility, and leadership, conceptual skills that reflect “high-order knowledge and literacies a technical communicator needs to be successful” (Henschel & Meloncon, 2014, p. 5). For the coding process, we utilized the same codes that were developed for research examining technical communication jobs within the US (Brumberger & Lauer, 2015).
Once the data were coded, we compared the job postings for each region to one another and to previously collected data for 914 technical communication jobs in the US (Brumberger & Lauer, 2015). That is, we compared the UK-IR data to the data for India, and we also compared the data for each of the international regions individually to the data for the US. We relied on two statistical measures in order to evaluate whether the differences observed in the data were meaningful.
First, we conducted one-way analyses of variance (ANOVA) to examine whether there were quantitative differences among the three markets. That is, we determined whether the overall number of qualifications—products, technologies, competencies, or characteristics—requested in the job postings varied according to region. Utilizing post-hoc tests, we were able to determine which region(s) differed. Second, we performed contingency analyses (Pearson’s CHI squares) in order to examine whether there was a statistical difference in which qualifications were called for across the three regions. The CHI square compares the observed results to the results that would be expected if differences were due to chance. For all qualifications for which the CHI square returned a significant result, we ran additional pairwise CHI squares (comparing two of the three regions) accompanied by a Fisher’s Exact Test, which enabled us to examine whether the proportion of jobs calling for a particular qualification differed across regions (e.g., did the proportion of jobs calling for “collaboration” differ in the US vs. UK-IR vs. India?). For all statistical tests, we report the results as significant only if p<.05.
Throughout the sections that follow, we compare the data for India and the UK-IR to US jobs data (Brumberger & Lauer, 2015). We begin with an overview of broader differences among the markets before looking more closely at products, technologies, competencies, and personal characteristics.
General market differences
Job categories Based on job titles, five main categories of jobs were evident in the postings (see Figure 1). One of the interesting points that emerges from the data is that the traditional category of “technical writer” is far less prevalent in the UK-IR and India than it is the US, even with the heavy percentage of jobs in information technology across all three regions (see Industry Sectors below). The relatively new category of content developer accounts for just under one-quarter (23%) of the jobs in the US but over half of the jobs in both the UK-IR (51%) and India (58%). It is within this job category that the strongest differences emerge.
The UK-IR postings align more closely with the US than the Indian postings do, but inconsistencies across regions suggest that the job title of content developer may not be applied the same way in India, and possibly even in the UK-IR, as it is in the US. These inconsistencies make comparisons across job categories unreliable, as does the smaller number of jobs within each job category for the UK-IR and India. Thus, for the remaining analyses, we consider the job postings from each region as a group, without categorizing them further; we will, however, note results in which the content developer/technical writer distinction and other job categories may play a role.
Industry sectors Figure 2 illustrates the top industry sectors advertising technical communication jobs. In India, two industries—information technology and advertising/marketing/public relations—account for 75% of the jobs; the jobs in the UK-IR and the US are much more distributed across industries. Not surprisingly, though, information technology, which accounts for almost half (47%) of the India jobs, remains a key industry in both the UK-IR and the US, accounting for 20% of the job postings in each. The only other industry that commands such a substantial chunk of the market is Advertising/Marketing/PR. As Figure 3 illustrates, however, Advertising/Marketing/PR accounts for far more jobs in India (28%) than it does in the UK-IR (19%); in the domestic technical communication market, only 9% of the jobs are in Advertising/Marketing/PR. The numbers may suggest that the line between the technical communication and marketing/PR industries—and their respective skillsets—may be less clear in India and the UK-IR than it tends to be in the US.
Experience levels Experience levels were another area in which there were notable differences across regions (see Figure 3). Virtually all (99%) of the India postings stipulate a range for years of experience, and the experience called for is substantially lower than that in the UK-IR and the US. Just over half (52%) of the Indian postings called for fewer than two years of experience. For the UK-IR, the curve shifts to the right: Only 18% of the positions were specifically seeking applicants with fewer than two years of experience, although 44% did not specify experience level. The curve for the US shifts still farther to the right, this time with peaks at two years and five years, suggesting that, overall, US technical communication positions call for more experience than the UK-IR and Indian positions.
Education levels As Figure 4 illustrates, education levels for the UK-IR are quite different from India and the US. In the UK-IR market, approximately one-third (35%) of the job postings call for a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, while 63% do not specify an education level at all. Again, there is at least one dedicated technical communication program in the UK-IR, as well as others that offer a focus in technical communication or a related area. Still, it is possible that the relatively low number of jobs calling for a bachelor’s degree could be due to the limited number of universities that offer a technical communication degree. However, this pattern does not hold true for India.
In India, a bachelor’s degree is required for the majority (61%) of jobs, which is true for the US as well (57%), while approximately one-third of the jobs in each region do not indicate an education level. At first glance, the alignment between India and the US in education levels is striking. However, a bachelor’s degree in India is not necessarily comparable to a bachelor’s degree in the US; many Indian bachelor degrees are three-year programs rather than the four-year standard in the US (World Education Services, 2014). As significant, though, is the content of those degrees. Students can obtain a degree in English, but it is a literature degree (Jeyaraj, 2005). Thus, although the job postings may call for a bachelor’s degree, that degree may be only tangentially related to technical communication work, which is less likely in the US, where there are now numerous technical communication programs.
(percentages under 1% omitted)
Information products are the various genres and content types that applicants produce on the job. As shown in Figure 5, the job postings in all three markets reflect a diverse set of information products, but there are measurable differences in the genre knowledge expected. Overall, however, the Indian postings mention fewer products, on average, than either the UK-IR (p=.001) or the US (p=.001), the latter two of which are comparable to one another in the number of products.
A series of chi squares revealed that there were also statistically significant differences across regions in terms of what information products are called for. The sharpest difference is in user guides/technical documentation, which are called for in 53% of the US job postings but only 23% and 25% of the UK-IR and Indian postings, respectively (p<.0001). Reports and database content also appear proportionally more often in US jobs than in either UK-IR or India jobs (p<.001). Grants/proposals and multimodal/video content were both more prevalent in the US and UK-IR than in India (p<.001). The former can be explained by the fact that there are few grant writing positions among the India job postings.
The difference in multimodal/video is particularly intriguing. Multimodal/video appears in 20% of the postings for the US, and 25% of those for the UK-IR; however, it appears in only 9% of the Indian postings. This substantial difference may point to a focus on verbal communication over visual communication in Indian technical communication (see Competencies, below). It may also reflect technical limitations that makes multimedia and video content less functional in India. For example, India has an average connection speed of 2.5 Mbps, compared to 13 Mbps in the UK, 12.4 Mbps in Ireland, and 12.6 in the US (https://www.akamai.com/us/en/multimedia/documents/report/q3-2015-soti-connectivity-final.pdf).
Three products dominated in the UK-IR job postings. Website content and promotional/marketing material appeared more frequently in those postings (56% and 44%, respectively) than in either the US or the Indian postings (p<.0001). Additionally, social media writing was more prevalent in the UK-IR postings (40%)—and in those from India (33%)—than it was in the US postings (21%) (p<.0001). The substantial number of jobs in the UK-IR and India that mention social media writing—despite the fact that social media writing jobs comprise only 15% and 9% of the total jobs in those regions, respectively—demonstrates the rise in importance of social media communication across all kinds of technical communication jobs. It may also reflect the greater percentage of jobs in Advertising/Marketing/PR in those two regions, and the greater proportion of jobs with a content development focus, as compared to in the US.
And finally, two products appeared more frequently in the job postings from India than in the postings from either the US or the UK-IR: white papers/articles (p<.0001) and newsletters (p<.01). These products coincide with the greater emphasis on written communication requested in Indian jobs (see Competencies, below). Website content was significantly more prevalent in the postings from India than those from the US (p<.01) but, as noted above, was less prevalent in the Indian postings than in the UK-IR postings (p<.0001).
Technology is an area in which the US jobs postings look quite different from the international postings we collected (see Figure 6); the US jobs place more emphasis on technology than either the UK-IR (p<.0001) or India (p<.0001), while the latter two regions are comparable to one another in the average number of technologies called for in the job postings.
Additionally, the regions differ regarding which technologies are in demand. Perhaps most notable is the dominance of MS Office in the US as compared to the UK-IR and India (p<.0001). MS Office is called for in 50% of the US jobs but only 17% and 22% of the UK-IR and Indian jobs, respectively. Likewise, MS Visio and SharePoint are more prevalent in the US job postings than in either the UK-IR or India job postings (p<.0001). Additionally, the US postings are much more likely to specify tools within Adobe Creative Suite, including Photoshop, Acrobat, Illustrator/Fireworks, and InDesign (all p<.0001); the difference across regions was smaller, though still significant (p<.01), for Dreamweaver.
There is one technology that appears proportionally much more often in the UK-IR job postings than in either the US or the India (p<.0001) postings: content management systems (CMS). CMS were called for in 27% of the UK-IR job postings; the US and India were comparable to one another, at 14% and 13%, respectively. This finding is somewhat surprising, in that the prevalence of content developer job postings would lead one to think that CMS would be equally important in India as it is in the UK-IR. This may again point to a difference in what “content development” means in the various regions.
While the US and UK-IR job postings are comparable to one another in the number of competencies they require, the Indian postings on average call for significantly fewer (p<.001). Additionally, there are marked differences in which competencies figure prominently in a given market (see Figure 7).
Several competencies are significantly more prevalent in the US job postings than in the postings for the other two regions: visual communication (p<.0001), research (p<.0001), subject matter familiarity (p<.0001), working with subject matter experts (SMEs) (p<.0001), and usability/testing (p<.001). Meanwhile, both content development (p<.0001) and Web analytics (p<.0001) are called for less frequently in the US postings than in the postings from the UK-IR and India, which is in keeping with the different percentages of content developer jobs.
Written communication is the most called-for competency across all three regions, but it is less prevalent in the job postings from the UK-IR than in the postings from the US and India (p<.0001), and the same is true for oral/verbal communication (p<.0001). At the same time, though, unspecified communication is mentioned more frequently in the UK-IR job postings (p<.0001), so it may be that there is simply less specificity regarding communication in those postings. The UK-IR job postings also place greater emphasis on audience awareness (p<.0001), client communication (p<.0001), and business/strategic planning (p<.0001), and less emphasis on editing (p<.0001) and research (p<.0001) than postings for either of the other two markets. The postings for the UK-IR thus seem to be distinguished by a greater emphasis on client interactions. These findings could be related to a greater percentage of jobs in the UK-IR being in retail/consumer products; the data may also point to the higher percentage of content developer positions in the UK-IR. That the pattern does not hold for the Indian postings may again suggest a disparity in how content developer positions are defined in that market.
The job postings for India suggest that these are positions which greatly emphasize written communication, even more so than in the US (p=.01). However, styles/style guides and standards are less prevalent (p<.001) in the Indian postings, as are subject matter familiarity (p<.0001), and translating complex material (p<.01), which suggests that the written communication being called for is relatively basic. The Indian postings require less expertise in several other areas as well. They reflect the least emphasis on client/customer communication (p<.0001) and business/strategic planning (p<.0001) of the three regions, and project planning/management is far less prevalent as well (p<.0001). This finding suggests these positions require less sophisticated attention to audience and are less advanced positions overall, which may be in keeping with the lower experience levels noted for the region. However, in US job postings, none of these competencies is tied to experience level (Brumberger & Lauer, 2015).
The Indian job postings also give the least attention to visual communication among the three regions (p<.0001), which aligns with the low proportion of India job postings calling for multimodal/video content. In the US, 76% of the postings emphasize written communication, and 43% call for visual communication. In the UK-IR, those percentages are 61% and 34%. In India, however, the gap is enormous, with 83% of the job postings calling for written communication, and only 25% calling for visual communication. These differences could be related to technical communication training, to software availability, to Internet speed, and even to what kind of information development work comprises technical communication and content development in India as compared to the US and the UK-IR.
There is one final competency that merits discussion here, and that is localization/globalization. We coded for localization/globalization if a posting indicated that job responsibilities might include any sort of intercultural or international competence, such as working with an internationally distributed team, crafting documentation for users in other cultures or countries, and so on. There is essentially no difference in the frequency with which localization/globalization appears in the job postings in the three regions. However, what is interesting is not the lack of difference but the fact that this essential competency figures so little in the job postings. This finding is disheartening but not overly surprising for the US job postings; as Thatcher (2008) notes, the US has “a long way to go” in terms of overcoming ethnocentrism and increasing sensitivity to cultural differences (p. 216); the data are, however, unexpected for India, given its role as an outsourcing market.
The US job postings place a much greater emphasis on personal characteristics than either the UK-IR jobs (p<.001) or the Indian jobs (p<.0001); the latter two markets are comparable to one another in the average number of personal characteristics indicated in job postings. However, there are again some striking differences in terms of which characteristics figure more prominently (see Figure 8).
Collaboration is the most commonly mentioned characteristic in both the US and UK-IR job postings, appearing in 56% of the postings for each region. Although collaboration is also one of the most prevalent characteristics for the Indian postings, it appears in only 39% of the job descriptions, a highly significant difference (p<.0001). A similar pattern holds true for independence/initiative/motivation (p<.0001), which appears in 41% of the US postings and 46% of the UK-IR postings but only 27% of the Indian postings. Interpersonal skills figure less prominently, but they follow this same pattern across regions (p=.01).
There are also several characteristics that are central to the US job postings but are far less visible in postings for the other two regions. Foremost among these is time management and the ability to meet deadlines (p=.01), visible in 50% of the US job postings but only 43% and 41% of the UK-IR and Indian postings, respectively. Likewise, analytical/critical thinking (p<.0001), detail-orientation (p<.0001), organization (p<.0001), and even multitasking (p<.0001)—all characteristics that we view as critical to the work of technical communicators in the US, and that appear in at least 30% of the US job postings—figure far less prominently in the job postings for the UK-IR and India. Two final characteristics that appear relatively often in US job postings are much less prevalent in the UK-IR and India postings: problem solving (p<.0001) and flexibility (p<.01).
There is one personal characteristic that is significantly more prevalent in the UK-IR job postings than in either the US or India, and that is creativity (p<.0001). It appears in 29% of the UK-IR job descriptions, 21% of the Indian postings, and only 16% of the US postings. Greater emphasis on creativity is typical of postings for content developer positions.
Like job postings from the US (Brumberger & Lauer, 2015), the job postings for the UK-IR and India reflect the breadth of work that has come to characterize technical communication. However, the data highlight important differences in genre knowledge, technology skills, professional competencies, and personal characteristics across the three markets.
Overall, the US job postings are characterized by higher experience levels and a greater number of qualifications than the job postings for either of the two international markets. These findings may reflect the maturity of the technical communication field in the US. At the same time, the information products in the US postings reflect a greater focus on user documentation and reports, with an accompanying emphasis on working with subject matter experts and on usability/testing. This seems to suggest that the US market is still dominated by more traditional forms of technical communication, again perhaps because of its longer history in the field or because it is home to larger, more established companies (Brumberger & Lauer, 2015). These differences may also account for some of the differences in the technologies called for across regions, as well as the greater visibility of technology overall in the US postings. Finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, the US job postings have a much greater focus than either of the international markets on personal characteristics, including analytical/critical thinking, detail orientation, organization, and multitasking—all of which are central to US technical communication work.
Of the two international markets we examined, the UK-IR job postings are most closely aligned with those from the US, with comparable numbers of information products and competencies. However, the UK-IR postings specify fewer personal characteristics and technologies, and they tend to require less experience; they are also less likely to specify a minimum level of education. The data suggest that the majority of the differences between the US and UK-IR job postings can be explained by the high percentage of content development positions in the UK-IR. The UK-IR jobs reflect more attention to client communication, website content, and promotional materials than is visible in either the US or Indian jobs. Additionally, the UK-IR positions put greater emphasis on creativity and on the use of content management systems. All of these differences align with a content development emphasis, particularly when that emphasis is accompanied by a greater share of jobs in marketing-related areas.
The Indian job postings are the most distinct from the US positions. The job titles suggest that the Indian positions are weighted toward content development/management, but the qualifications called for in the postings do not align particularly well with content development positions in the US. Taken as a whole, the Indian postings reflect differing expectations for experience levels and preparation/training, fewer qualifications, and differing emphasis on which qualifications are important, with an overwhelming emphasis on written communication. The findings seem to suggest that the positions in India are largely entry-level. However, in US job postings, the majority of the qualifications called for do not vary with experience levels; they are core competencies of the field (Brumberger & Lauer, 2015). This difference, then, may suggest that the Indian job postings reflect a narrower set of core competencies.
Broader cultural factors may shape some of the patterns observed in the job postings for the different markets, including the quantity of detail included and the types of qualifications emphasized. For instance, India differs markedly from both the US and the UK-IR on two of Hofstede’s (2003) cultural dimensions: individualism/collectivism and power distance. The US, UK, and Ireland all rank high on individualism, much higher than India, which tends to have more of a balance between individualistic and collectivistic traits (Itim International). In keeping with these rankings, independence, initiative, and self-motivation figure prominently in the job postings for the US and the UK-IR, but not for India. Additionally, given the greater emphasis on collectivism in India, hiring decisions there may well be based less on evidence of one’s experience and abilities, and more on relationships, which may explain the less detailed job postings that seem to characterize the market. Similarly, the US, UK, and Ireland all rank fairly low on power distance, while India ranks high. The greater number of products and competencies called for in job postings for the US and UK-IR may in part reflect greater reliance on the expertise of the individual rather than the manager. In India, however, the high power distance would mean an explicitly top-down workplace, in which the manager is the expert who controls and directs the work of his team members, valuing compliance over independence (Itim International).
These and other cultural patterns may account for several of the differences observed in the job data, particularly differences between India and the other two markets. Responding to the challenges posed by outsourcing, then, demands an understanding of underlying cultural factors as well as recognition of the visible differences themselves. Ironically, the job postings for all three markets demonstrate a similar and notable lack of attention to cultural issues.
Implications & Conclusion
Although our study examined only two international markets, it reveals substantial variation across those markets regarding employer expectations for technical communicators. The divergences revealed by the data emphasize how problematic it is to assume that practices and skills accepted as norms in the US transcend linguistic, geographical, and cultural boundaries. As Melton (2011) argues, many of our assumptions about what constitutes effective technical communication are US-centric. Research into additional markets—particularly non-English speaking markets—is needed and could well reveal more patterns that challenge these assumptions. This is important not only for addressing the difficulties of outsourcing but also for the success of international collaborations more broadly.
Ironically, the lack of attention to issues of localization and globalization in the job postings suggests that technical communication employers in all three regions are either taking intercultural/international competence for granted, or, more likely, are not foregrounding it as a core competency. One could argue that, in an age of globalization, employers simply assume new hires will have a certain degree of intercultural competence. However, the same claim could be made for longstanding technical communication competencies (written communication, e.g.), and those still feature prominently in the job postings. Precisely because most technical communicators produce content that may ultimately be shared globally, our data suggest that employers need to give more attention to issues of localization and globalization as they pertain to technical communication. An ongoing ethnographic study of US technical communicators on the job reinforces this finding (authors, unpublished). For example, at one of our research sites, technical communication work is done by writers in both the US and India. Some of the US writers are paired with Indian writers in a mentoring relationship and express frustration with their mentees’ work habits and skills, which they judge according to US expectations. Intercultural training in the workplace would not by itself resolve these issues, of course. However, it would help both groups understand the source of the difficulties and better equip them to collaborate effectively, which could also result in deliverables that are ultimately better suited to their global users.
Our study also offers empirical support for the claim that outsourcing may bring new opportunities for technical communicators. The more extensive skillsets requested overall in US jobs postings as compared to those from the UK-IR and India may provide leverage for US technical communicators who work with employers and clients in those markets. The broad range of competencies called for in US job postings may also help to position US technical communicators to conduct training sessions to help international counterparts better meet the expectations and communication needs of US users. On a more granular level, the data suggest that project planning/management figures far more prominently in the US and the UK/IR jobs than it does in those for India. This divergence may point to an area in which US and UK/IR technical communicators may be well positioned to take leadership roles in collaborations with colleagues in India. Likewise, the study reveals that visual and multimodal content development, including both conceptual knowledge and tools, are more prevalent in US technical communication job postings. This, then, may be another area in which US technical communicators can make substantial contributions. In each of these areas, however, intercultural competencies will again be essential and should be advocated for in the workplace, even with technical communicators’ expertise in working with diverse audiences.
For academic programs, the study serves as a reminder of the complexities of a global workplace and the importance of helping students learn to be flexible and agile thinkers in order to succeed in a competitive market. US curricula include a much greater focus on international issues than they did just over a decade ago (Meloncon & Henschel, 2013), and this is essential. Attention to localization/globalization should be part of every technical communication curriculum and should include discussion of workplace issues and strategies for collaborating with technical communicators from other cultures and countries. Such an approach would help graduates—all graduates, not only those from the US—meet the demands of a global workplace.
As Faber and Johnson-Eilola (2002) contend, globalization is “a complex and diverse process that does not lead to obvious answers” (p. 136). Addressing the challenges of globalization and outsourcing is not simply about overcoming international competition. It is also about recognizing and responding effectively to the myriad complexities of globalized technical communication—its products, its users, its potential impacts. The study we present here is obviously only one feature of an intricate global landscape. An analysis of job postings cannot capture the nuances of the workplace, but it does reveal patterns that characterize the field and are comparable across markets. Likewise, a comparison of three markets is limited in its generalizability, but the questions raised and methodology utilized can serve as one model for investigating and comparing technical communication practices in different countries. In terms of international technical communication and outsourcing, this is valuable foundational data in an underexplored area, data that can help technical communicators can define their value, maximize their relevancy, and better meet user needs in a continually shifting global market.
- Although English is, of course, not the sole language spoken in India, it is one of India’s official languages and the language of technical communication work there.
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About the Authors
Eva Brumberger is an associate professor and head of the technical communication program at Arizona State University. She has worked in the computer industry as a technical writer and continues to do freelance writing and editing. Her research interests include visual rhetoric and document design, workplace and intercultural communication, and pedagogy. She has published in a variety of journals, has co-edited a collection on teaching visual communication, and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Visual Literacy and Communication Design Quarterly. She is available at email@example.com.
Claire Lauer is an associate professor in the technical communication program at Arizona State University. She teaches courses in visual communication, data visualization, and research methods. Her research has appeared in a range of journals, including Technical Communication Quarterly, Written Communication, Journal of Business and Technical Communication, Kairos, Computers and Composition, and Programmatic Perspectives. She is currently serving as chair of ACM’s Special Interest Group for the Design of Communication (SIGDOC). She is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Manuscript received 10 October 2016, revised 17 April 2017; accepted 18 April 2017.
Appendix: Raw Numbers
|India (258 jobs)||UK-IR (216 jobs)||US (914 jobs)|
|Multimodal & Video||23||9%||53||25%||183||20%|
|Social Media Writing||84||33%||86||40%||193||21%|
|User Guides/Tech Documentation||65||25%||50||23%||487||53%|
|India (258 jobs)||UK-IR (216 jobs)||US (914 jobs)|
|Adobe Creative Suite/Cloud||8||3%||9||4%||56||6%|
|CMS/DMS (Content Management)||33||13%||58||27%||129||14%|
|India (258 jobs)||UK-IR (216 jobs)||US (914 jobs)|
|Subject Matter Familiarity||41||16%||70||32%||364||40%|
|Translating Complex Material||18||7%||28||13%||134||15%|
|Usability & Testing||28||11%||20||9%||165||18%|
|Work with SMEs||40||16%||41||19%||260||28%|
|India (258 jobs)||UK-IR (216 jobs)||US (914 jobs)|