For Software User Assistance Professionals

bills_smallA central element of any job we hold is the compensation we receive. While compensation is only one factor in our decision to accept a position, it is how many of us keep score and the way all of us pay the bills. The WritersUA User Assistance Salary Survey provides you with detailed and comprehensive information about compensation for user assistance professionals. Our 2013 Salary Survey results were viewed on our web site by over 10,000 visitors. We hope you find these new survey results useful in gauging where you stand amongst your peers.

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Methodology

From November 5-27, 2014, we accepted responses via a survey form on our WritersUA web site. The final results presented here represent 484 responses . We appreciate the input from everyone who participated!

The total annual user assistance payroll represented by these respondents is just under $39 million USD.

We did not expect to receive enough data to have useful summaries for non-U.S. countries, so we limited the study to those working in the U.S. We separated part-timers (individuals working less than 30 hours per week), and Contractors. These groups have significantly different data values than the core group.

This study comes with a couple of biases. First, the majority of respondents are most likely on the contact list of WritersUA. We received most of the responses in response to email broadcasts we made to our mailing list. However, the WritersUA constituency is large (6,000+) and probably is a fair representation of the overall user assistance community. The survey was also announced on user groups related to technical communication and user assistance. We allowed anyone to participate and we did not require any personal identification.


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Salary Range

The overall average U.S. salary is $88,686. The salaries range from $19,000 to $185,000 and fall into the following quartile groupings:

Salary
Group
Salary
(in $1,000s)
Lower quartile 19-70
Second quartile 71-85
Third quartile 86-103
Top quartile 104-185

How satisfied are you with your current overall compensation?

  • 22.4% – Very Satisfied
  •  57.8% – Satisfied
  • 16.7% – Dissatisfied
  • 3.1% – Very dissatisfied

Do you have college education in a field directly related to technical communication or user experience?

  • Yes 50.2%
  • No 49.8%

What is your gender?

  • Female 61.4%
  • Male 38.6%

How much experience do you have developing some form of software user assistance?

  • 2.1% – Less than 2 years
  • 5.5% – 2-4 years
  • 13.2% – 5 – 9 years
  • 21.3% – 10 – 14 years
  • 57.9% – 15 or more years

What percentage of your work is management or supervisory?

  • 75.1% – 0 24%
  • 13.4% – 25 49%
  • 4.7% – 50 74%
  • 6.8% – 75 100%

How many people are directly involved with user assistance development at your organization?

  • 50.7% – 1 to 5
  • 15.0% – 6 to 10
  • 15.0% – 11 to 25
  • 19.3% – 26 or more

Work Environment

Our industry and our world continue to undergo significant changes. As computer and software developers respond to economic and technological forces, our profession is experiencing change as well. We asked the respondents what working conditions have been significantly affected over the past six months.

Working Conditions Reduction No change Increase
Number of UA employees 19% 59% 22%
Workload due to staff changes 3% 53% 54%
Number or scope of projects 5% 21% 74%
Funding for training 24% 70% 7%
Salary level 4% 67% 29%

 

Respondent Comments About Work Environment

  • 2% cost of living adjustment
  • agile development = less work for us
    company wants fewer employees and more outsource
  • corporate reorganization — increased workload
  • Department of 8 (not all technical writers) reduced by 50% this year
  • Far fewer openings for end-user docs specialists
  • I entered reduction in salary because in 11 years I have had one 2% increase. However, cost of living increases significantly.
  • If this were over the past year, my answers would be quite different rather than no change across the board
  • Losing US jobs, hiring in India. Company no longer pays for professional memberships.
  • My Team was split to handle more, effectively reducing my staff
  • No promotions or raises since 2008 – so wage cut in real terms
  • Reduced salary percentage increase
  • Reduction in IT resources to support my role.
  • Sub-department (formerly Training, now Business Analysis)
  • Technical Publications is no longer a separate department. The writing group has been added to Technical Support.
  • We are “on hold” from several acquisitions.
  • Workload from new devices (mobile, tablet) increase

Non-monetary Compensation

Employee benefits can add up to a significant value. These often include medical and dental insurance, tuition reimbursements, professional society dues, and 401(k) plans. Since benefit packages vary widely and are valued differently, we asked the respondents not to include benefits in their salary figure. The following shows the percentage of respondents enjoying certain benefits.

  • 80.7% – Paid medical/dental
  • 55.6% – Bonuses
  • 55.1% – 401(k) without company contribution
  • 32.8% – Paid training
  • 26.1% – Stock option program
  • 16.8% – Profitsharing
  • 8.5% – Highspeed home Internet connection
  • 7.3% – Sabbatical (one month or longer)

Respondent Comments About Non-monetary Compensation

  • “Unlimited” vacation (in practice, there are limits!)
  • 401(k) WITH company contribution (RRSP) (20)
  • Annual salary increases above the level of annual increase in cost of living
  • Cell phone stipend
  • Flex hours (5)
  • free snacks, group discounts
  • Freedom of working for myself
  • FSA for commuting and child care
  • I don’t receive any of these (8)
  • intellectual atmosphere
  • Matching for charitable contributions
  • Meal Card
  • Paid time off (4)
  • Partially paid medical/dental benefits (3)
  • Pension
  • Professional society dues, conferences
  • Quality of life in workplace
  • Reimbursement program for home computer hardware
  • Remote work options
  • Startup w/equity, other benefits are skimpy or N/A
  • Stock grant program (not options)
  • Subsidized? medical/dental, flexible work week
  • Telephone, paid fees for memberships, lunch (partially)
  • Work from home (8)
  • Work time to do charity work

Overall Job Satisfaction

The following table shows how satisfied we are with the various compensation elements we received.

Non-monetary Benefit Very Satisfied Satisfied Dissatisfied Very Dissatisfied
Work responsibilities 28% 59% 11% 2%
Base salary 20% 59% 16% 4%
Compensation over salary (bonuses, raises, stocks, 401k’s, etc.) 18% 52% 22% 8%
Other benefits (vacation time, health club, association fees, etc.) 23% 56% 17% 4%
Flexibility in work schedule 53% 38% 8% 2%
Professional development and training 12% 44% 35% 10%
Overall compensation 21% 59% 17% 3%

 

Contractors

The data values for those identifying themselves as contractors or part-time workers are significantly different than from the broader population. So we separated that data from the main set.Out of 52 respondents identifying themselves as contractors, 24 were Independent hourly, 21 contracted through a placement agency, and 22 were business owners with multiple concurrent projects.

Average income is not a very descriptive statistic for this group because (1) many contractors are paid for every hour they work, and (2) a number of contractors work less than full-time. We converted reported income to an average hourly wage using the average number of weekly work hours submitted by the respondents. We assumed 50 weeks of work per year.

This pegs the overall average hourly wage at $45.48 and ranging between $19 and $82 per hour. Note that the limited sample size makes it inappropriate to use these figures for broad generalizations. Rates vary widely by regional area and experience level.

Job Titles

We asked respondents to include their job titles. The list is quite extensive. Although variants on technical writing and documentation dominate the overall list, there is quite a variety of titles. Numbers following a title indicate the number of responses for the title.

  • Advisory Technical Editor (2)
  • Associate Author
  • Associate Technical Writer
  • Business Process Analyst
  • CMs Implementation Specialist
  • Communication Consultant
  • Community Documentation Liaison
  • Consultant (3)
  • Content and Communit Lead
  • Content Development Manager
  • Content Specialist
  • Content strategist
  • Content Technology Manager
  • Contract Technical Writer
  • Corporate Communications
  • Corporate Communications Manager
  • Corporate Documentation Manager
  • Curriculum Developer
  • Director (2)
  • Director of Communications (2)
  • Director of Documentation
  • Director, Education Services
  • Director, Information Development
  • Director, product Documentation
  • Documentation and Training Manager
  • Documentation Architect
  • Documentation engineer
  • Documentation Lead (3)
  • Documentation Manager (12)
  • Documentation Specialist (4)
  • Documentation Supervisor (2)
  • Documentation Team Lead
  • Executive director, training and procedures
  • Informatics eLearning Specialist
  • Information Architect (7)
  • Information Design Consultant
  • Information Design Specialist
  • Information Developer (10)
  • Information Developer Specialist
  • Information Development Lead
  • Information Development Manager (3)
  • Information Development Team Lead
  • Information Engineer
  • Information Resources Supervisor
  • Information Technologist II
  • Innovation team leader
  • Instructional Designer (6)
  • IT Specialist
  • IT Technical Writer
  • Knowledge Base Team Lead
  • Knowledge Management Specialist
  • Knowledge Solutions Director
  • Lead Automation Engineer
  • Lead Technical Communicator (2)
  • Lead Technical Copywriter
  • Lead Technical Writer (7)
  • Learning and Documentation Manager
  • Manager (2)
  • Manager – Content and Translations
  • Manager – Information Development
  • Manager of Software Documentation
  • Manager of Technical Communications
  • Manager of technical publications
  • Manager, Documentation and Curriculum
  • Manager, Education and User Experience
  • Manager, Information Development (2)
  • Manager, Information Development – Med Adherence
  • Manager, ISD/Documentation
  • Manager, Technical Authors
  • Manager, Technical Communications and Training
  • Manager, Technical Publications
  • Manager, Technical Writing
  • Marketing Operations Team Lead
  • Online Help Developer
  • Owner (Technical Writing and Online Doc Development)
  • Policy Consultant
  • President
  • Principal
  • Principal Consultant
  • Principal Information Developer
  • Principal Technical Writer (14)
  • Product Communications Manager
  • Product Documentation Manager
  • Product manager
  • Product Support Manager
  • Program Manager, Online Performance Support – Training Operations
  • Programmer-writer
  • Project Manager (3)
  • Publications Manager
  • Publications Senior Specialist
  • Senior Analyst
  • Senior Consultant
  • Senior Content Author
  • Senior Content Developer (2)
  • Senior Content Specialist
  • Senior Document Architect
  • Senior Documentation Analyst
  • Senior Editor
  • Senior Experience Design Content Manager
  • Senior Help Desk Specialist and Technical Writer
  • Senior Information Developer (4)
  • Senior Manager of Technical Content
  • Senior Manager User Assistance
  • Senior Manager, Product & Technical Communications
  • Senior Manager, Technical Communications
  • Senior Manager, UXD and Technical Publications
  • Senior Principal Interaction Designer
  • Senior Principal Technical Writer
  • Senior Procedure Analyst
  • Senior Programming Writer
  • Senior Software Engineer
  • Senior Technical Author
  • Senior Technical Communicator (5)
  • Senior Technical Documentation Specialist
  • Senior Technical Editor
  • Senior Technical Writer (73)
  • Senior Technical Writer – Infrastructure
  • Senior Technical Writer – Team Lead
  • Senior Technical Writer II
  • Senior Technical Writer/Business Analyst
  • Senior Technical Writer/Editor
  • Senior Technical Writer/IT Specialist
  • Senior Technical Writer/Lead
  • Senior Technical Writer/Production Editor
  • Senior Training Consultatnt
  • Senior Usability Architect
  • Senior user assistance manager
  • Senior User Assistance Writer
  • Senior UX Architect
  • Senior UX Content Strategist
  • Software User Documentation Specialist
  • SOP Specialist
  • Sr Business Analyst
  • Sr Manager, Information Development
  • Sr Project manager
  • Sr Technical Communicator
  • Sr Technical Publications Manager
  • Sr. Copywriter – UX
  • Sr. Documentation Specialist
  • Sr. Documentation Writer
  • Sr. Information Developer (4)
  • Sr. Manager, Science Marketing Content
  • Sr. Multimedia Developer
  • Sr. Technical Communicator
  • Staff Technical Writer (4)
  • Staff Writer
  • Supervisor of information development
  • Support specialist
  • Team Lead
  • Technical and business communications consultant
  • Technical Author (2)
  • Technical Communication Consultant
  • Technical Communication Manager (2)
  • Technical Communications Consultant (3)
  • Technical Communications Leader
  • Technical Communications Manager
  • Technical Communications Specialist (2)
  • Technical Communications Supervisor
  • Technical Documentation Designer
  • Technical Documentation Manager
  • Technical Editor (2)
  • Technical Proposals Lead
  • Technical Publications Leadh
  • Technical Publications Manager (3)
  • Technical Publications Teamlead
  • Technical Team Lead
  • Technical Trainer
  • Technical writer (owner) (88)
  • Technical Writer and Editor (2)
  • Technical Writer I
  • Technical Writer II (3)
  • Technical Writer III
  • Technical Writer Lead
  • Technical Writer Manager (2)
  • Technical Writer Principal
  • Technical Writer, Usability Analyst
  • Technical Writer/ Multimedia Developer
  • Technical Writer/Content Engineer
  • Technical Writer/Editor (3)
  • Technical Writer/Engineer
  • Technical Writing and Training Consultant
  • Technical Writing Manager (4)
  • Technical Writing Supervisor
  • Training Content Development Manager
  • UA Writer and Trainer
  • User Assistance Design Lead
  • User Assistance Developer (2)
  • User Assistance Development Senior Manager
  • User Education Manager
  • User experience consultant
  • User experience designer
  • User Experience Manager
  • Voice Designer
  • Wordsmith
  • Writer/Editor
  • WW University Director – Application Content

General Comments

  • Appreciate you guys doing this again, it’s very helpful.
  • Clarifications on some questions – No change in the amount of funding for training doesn’t convey that there was never any budget for training.
  • Collecting annual salary of contractors gets you only misleading data. That is a factor of both the hourly rate, stability of workable hours, and willingness to work every opportunity that is offered. I have chosen to take off very few days per year. Much of my salary is eaten up by private health co-op premiums and private life/dental insurance for my family. But I am very satisfied with my pay rate and the stability of this project.
  • Despite my job title, I am not allowed to do the job I was hired to do. This has caused a lot of personal dissatisfaction. But the money and benefits are too good to say good-bye to. Can you say “golden handcuffs”?
  • For all of my answers, there’s a big however…. my last company went through huge upheaval and half the company was laid off. For my next gig, I’m looking for a contract for $65/hour or for permanent, at least $90K/annually.
  • Good work
  • I am a contractor through agencies. This year I worked on 2 hourly contracts, working for only 22 weeks out of 52 possible (40 hours per week) for a projected taxable income of $56,800 in 2014. The compensation on a yearly basis is not sufficient, due to the lack of income between contracts.
  • I am not full-time UA, perhaps you could include a question that reflects % time dedicated to user support & end-user documentation
  • i am underpaid.
  • I appreciate having this information gathered and shared but none of my employers has been willing to pay much attention to it, viewing it as biased and insufficiently rigorous. :-(
  • I love that my work handles all kinds of user assistance, especially what’s built directly into the products, and that I get to help people build their skills. We’re constantly doing more with less. Benefits are slowly eroding – there’s no longer paid external training, or a home Internet connection. Some medical benefits were just cut.
  • I often find that salaries depend on the type of company/product – in my case I work in the cloud/software industry.
  • I work as a UA professional in the government sector. While I do not enjoy stock options and other private sector perks, I really appreciate the job security, benefits and the chance to serve the community.
  • I work for an organization that does not value the contributions of user assistance associates and professional writers/editors to the quality and usability of software products.
  • I’d be interested to see remote/partial-at-home work rates tracked as well, for salaried employees.
  • If possible, please convey the 2014 survey results in a table or graph where appropriate.
  • I’m dissatisfied with my current compensation only because of the economic and financial crisis in my current country and, consequently, devaluation of the local currency.
  • I’m satisfied with my compensation but only because is some ways I’m just happy to have a job. With the increased workload and responisibilities I have gotten in the last year, I don’t feel like I was properly compensated but I’m not going to say anything.
  • It is a decent survey!
  • It might be beneficial to include a separate question for contractor rates. However, it is also valuable to combine salary and contract responses for a complete picture.
  • It might be interesting to know the mix of base salary, bonuses, and other compensation.
  • It would be interesting to see the favorite online resources that people are using for various learning in this field (perhaps categorized).
  • Listing “paid” medical/dental insurance was confusing to me because my company pays for part of my health insurance, but a significant amount is deducted from each paycheck, too. So it is partially company paid.
  • Lone writer…salary frozen, work load increased. Telecommuting most days is the chief benefit.
  • May want to define “user assistance” at the beginning of the survey.
  • More Canada-specific survey result details please.
  • Next time, you should include questions about commuting distance, working off site. and flexibility. I’ve given up other compensation for the ability to set my own hours.
  • Resident in the European Union
  • Rough year for our company – getting out soon.
  • salary/compensation amounts and components vary widely around the world. As this is a global survey, the region should be considered alongside the questions/comments relating to compensation; this would make the results more meaningful.
  • Some of the questions are not applicable to an hourly independent contractor and should have an N/A option.
  • Survey is well-constructed. Additonal comments – I went from a Flare Environment of 90K per yer to an environment where I’m trying to introduce Flare or RoboHelp at 78K per year at present.
  • Thanks for conducting survey. I used the results of the last survey plus some other sources to determine a reasonable offer for a new UA employee.
  • Thanks for doing this every year.
  • Thanks Joe. Keep up the good work. Enjoyed the Palm Springs conference this year.
  • The Canada-US $ exchange rate is particularly bad right now (for Canadians, that is). I hope you take that into account somehow when you report results, as the exchange rate fluctuates.
  • The survey covers most everything you’d want to cover. I don’t know if it really reflects the trends in hiring contractors as opposed to FTEs (Full time equivalents). Maybe request data on that as a metric because often contract work does not come with a good, affordable benefit plan.
  • very much U.S.-concentrated, questions regarding health care and compensation schemes not applicable in Germany
  • Would like to know what dept tech writers live. We were soley Tech Comm, then part of the Marketing team, now were part of the Training dept with trainers and tech support engineers. We’re part of a Fortune 100 company and now see a trend in business strategy to flatten the hierarchy and consolidate resources into “centers of excellence” and we’re wondering how other large companies consolidate teams. Where do tech writers live in a modern high-tech company?
  • You might want to include question whether or not one feels engaged or not, promotable or not, advancement or not. This could significantly affect answers to the other questions.