What Is an Online Help System Developer?

An Online Help System Developer is a technical writer within the field of technical communications. Online System Help Developers specialize in areas such as:
  • Technical writing and editing
  • Indexing
  • Information Architecture
  • Instructional Design
  • Technical Illustration
  • Globalization & Localization
  • Usability & Human Factor
  • Visual Design
  • Web Design & Development
  • Training and E-Learning Development


An Online Help System Developer is expected to have completed certain core competencies, in addition to general requirements. These competencies include technical knowledge in software, hardware, and/or processes. These are necessary because Online Help System Developers work with programmers and some knowledge of these areas is critical to understanding how the system that will be taught, and the systems functions. Communication skills, both written and verbal, are necessary in order to obtain and deliver information to management, programmers, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), and users. Computer skills and expertise with development tools is an integral part of developing online systems.

Characteristics of technical communicators

Technical Communicators, regardless of their concentration, have many key characteristics in common. These characteristics include creativity and technical know-how, as well as the ability to deliver technical information in an interesting and accessible format. Online Help System Developers are generally detail-oriented and highly analytical, yet adaptable and flexible. They are great communicators and enjoy working with a variety of people in order to understand the needs of the organization, technical staff (programmers), and end users (employees or customers). They almost always have a strong interest in communication technologies, particularly those involving multi-media and the Internet. Since technical communication is closely intertwined with design, most Online Help System Developers have an interest or a background in photography, graphic design, and media.

Nature of the Work

Typical tasks for an online help developer include:
  • Researching subjects by analyzing reference materials (specifications, blueprints, diagrams, maintenance manuals, reports, studies), consulting experts and using products themselves
  • Coordinating the work and communication among different offices to keep a project on track
  • Gathering information about target audience needs and analyze how to structure and format information to meet those needs
  • Preparing documentation plan for each document for monitoring progress and reporting
  • Selecting appropriate technology and media to deliver technical information
  • Creating and enforcing the use of consistent style and formatting by developing a house style guide
  • Writing content for on-line help files, reference materials, educational materials, procedural and policy manuals, user guides, proposals, and technical reports or instructional materials which explain the installation, operation and maintenance of mechanical, electronic and other equipment (ex. oil industry equipment or computer applications)
  • Engaging subject matter experts for the duration of the project especially highly complex subject matter
  • Creating auxiliary resources such as diagrams or interactive learning processes if required
  • Rewriting and editing drafts after they have been reviewed by technical experts for accuracy
  • Testing and writing about new products, particularly software and hardware
  • Managing documentation projects including translation and localization if required.

Technical writing jobs are usually concentrated in locations with information technology or scientific and technical research companies, such as California and Texas.
Most technical writers work in offices and routinely work with engineers and other technology professionals to manage the flow of information throughout an organization.
Technical writers employed by medium-sized or large organizations generally work standard office hours.Overtime sometimes is required to meet deadlines.
The pressure associated with having to meet deadlines can be stressful.

Although most technical writers are in-house employees (employed directly by the companies that utilize their services) some work on a freelance basis. Freelance technical writers(or contract writers) are either self-employed or they work for a technical consulting firm and are given specific short-term or recurring assignments. Contract writers working from home can set their own hours (though most are required to work in offices during normal business hours) but must be prepared to work long hours when required to complete projects on time.

Employment Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the job outlook for technical writers is projected to grow 17 percent from 2010 to 2020, or about as fast the average for all occupations. Strong competition is expected for salaried writing jobs because many people are attracted to this occupation. The table below is taken directly from the U.S. Department of Labor, Burearu of Labor Statistics:

National estimates for this occupation:
Employment estimate and mean wage estimates for this occupation:
Employment (1)
Employment RSE (3)
Mean hourly wage
Mean annual wage (2)
Wage RSE (3)
1.7 %
0.7 %

Percentile wage estimates for this occupation:

50% (Median)
Hourly Wage
Annual Wage (2)

Industries with the highest levels of employment in this occupation include:

Employment (1)
Percent of industry
Hourly mean
Annual mean
wage (2)
Computer Systems Design and Related Services
Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
Software Publishers
Scientific Research and Development Services
(1) Estimates for detailed occupations do not sum to the totals because the totals include occupations not shown separately. Estimates do not include self-employed workers.
(2) Annual wages have been calculated by multiplying the hourly mean wage by a "year-round, full-time" hours figure of 2,080 hours; for those occupations where there is not an hourly mean wage published, the annual wage has been directly calculated from the reported survey data.

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Original Author: Linda Page
Editors: Sandra Ramirez, Wendy Anderson, Luis Regalado, Larita Clow