Why the backlash against “government writers”?

Image by Jacob Creswick via Unsplash.com

One of the disturbing trends I’m seeing on this job hunt are employers who don’t want “government writers” for their projects. After being laid off from a position with a government contractor last year, I came across such references perhaps for the first time (that at least I can remember) in job advertisements.

Here’s a direct quote from a job ad I came across:

By contrast, a background in government or national intelligence will likely count against you; this client’s experience is that such exposure dulls one’s writing skills.

Part of me agrees with such feelings. However, after spending three years in the federal sector, I know there can be more to the story. The big secret of technical writers in the federal sector is that they often don’t even do the writing because of documentation by committee or by how many contractors focus on filling seats versus offering the customer (the federal government) an economical solution that fits their needs. I came to see that there was no such thing as a one person project, when a federal contractor could dupe the client into four people for the job.

The real question to be asking is how to find the government technical writer ready to break out of their current situation. The writer who has been keeping their skills up and who wants to get back to work. The technical writer who grew tired as a professional and tax payer of seeing waste across projects on a daily basis. It’s one thing to look down on government writers, but I challenge any of those people to spend onsite in the information technology of a federal government organization.

I watched federal government work lull many a good person into false complacency. When your biggest decision is where to go to lunch that day that is no way to live as a professional. It can be like socialized welfare in many ways.

However, for many people not just writers a federal contract represents work in a down economy. Paying one’s mortgage trumps meaningful work any day.

Don’t hate the writer, hate the game

Commercial opportunities have dwindled in the Washington, DC area so the federal government sector is often times the only game in town.I avoided the federal sector on purpose for years. However, I spent 2009–2012 back on the federal side.


Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.

Originally published at willkelly.org.

Will Kelly

I’m a senior technical writer and content strategist focused on the cloud and DevOps. My writing experience includes bylined articles, blog posts, white papers, marketing collateral, and technical documentation. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly

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