Who Pays Technical Writers main content
Essential terms for navigating the technical writing market.
Community Writer Program
A community writer program provides content marketing and user engagement for a product company and generally pays a flat rate per article. Community writer programs are usually run in-house by the marketing or developer relations teams at tech companies, especially developer tools companies.
A content agency writes articles for clients and may pay a flat rate per article or an hourly rate. Agencies vary substantially in the type of work they have available, but can offer more and steadier work than most publications and community writer programs.
A publication makes money by publishing articles and generally pays a flat rate per article. It might monetize content through ads, sponsors, subscriptions, events, or any mix thereof, but a publication's primary line of business is as a publisher.
Example: Smashing Magazine
A publishing house makes money by publishing books and generally pays authors a royalty per book sold, sometimes with an advance. Publishing houses in technical content tend to work similarly to other non-fiction book publishers.
Example: No Starch Press
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A byline identifies the author of a piece. It's quite literal: there is a line that says “By Your Name” and that's the byline.
Most publications and community writer programs give authors a byline. For content agencies, it's on an article-by-article or client-by-client basis. A byline is valuable because it grows your brand, especially as some publishers will include a bio and link with your byline.
Graphics like charts, diagrams, graphs, illustrations, photos, and tables supplement the reading experience and present the concepts in your article in a new way. Graphics are great for keeping readers engaged and breaking up large walls of text in your articles.
Sample code is code that is embedded in an article or tutorial. Like graphics, sample code supplements the reading experience by providing another way to understand the concepts being taught.
For tutorials, sample code is essential, and often more important than the writing around it. Make sure your sample code is always correct and complete with sufficient context.
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It's a set of techniques and practices designed to help the content you write rank in Google search results. Trends in SEO come and go, but clear, authoritative, useful writing is always the first step to getting to, and staying with, the top results.
SEO is a big topic. If you want to learn more, I recommend starting with Monica Lent's free SEO course.
There is no such thing as an industry-wide standard article. Every publisher has their own editorial standards and guidelines for what they publish.
Whether it is written down or just a vibe, publishers have a set of standards that an author must meet to get published and paid. These may include:
- A minimum word count
- A maximum word count
- Required sample code
- Required graphics
- Required metadata like a summary and header image
No later than the outline stage, communicate with your editor to make sure your proposed piece will meet the publisher's definition of a standard article.
A style guide is a reference for usage, grammar, punctuation, formatting—all of the little details that make writing consistent and polished. There are competing worldwide style guides like AP and The Chicago Manual of Style, as well as tech-specific manuals from the likes of Google and Microsoft.
Generally, a publisher will adopt one or more widely-used style guides, then supplement it with an in-house manual to cover points too specific for the major guides. You should familiarize yourself with your publisher's style guide, but you don't need to memorize it.
A style guide should be your assistant, not your enemy. Style guides exist to save authors and editors time by providing standard answers to common questions.
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