Analyst or Scribe?

Recently, I was contacted by a recruiter about an opening for a systems analyst. The recruiter, doing his "due-diligence," asked if I have ever performed systems analysis or worked as a systems analyst.

The Secret Is:

A good technical communicator—who may be known as a technical writer or editor, or both—is a very good systems analyst.

I wish I had a nickel for each time a recruiter or manager has told me: “I’m sorry, but we’re looking for a business systems analyst, not a writer.” Well, look at the job requirements listed for that opportunity; you’ll see the skills required of a good technical writer or communicator.

The Technical Writer (Communicator)

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, identifies these job tasks expected of a Technical Writer:

  • Produce instruction manuals and other supporting documents to communicate complex and technical information more easily
  • Develop, gather, and disseminate technical information among customers, designers, and manufacturers

The qualities expected of Technical Communicators or Writers include:

Communication skills “Technical writers must be able to take complex, technical information and translate it for colleagues and consumers who have nontechnical backgrounds.”
Detail-oriented “Technical writers create detailed instructions for others to follow. As a result, they must be detailed and precise at every step for the instructions to be useful.”
Imagination “Technical writers must be able to think about a procedure or product in the way that a person without technical experience would think about it.”
Teamwork “Technical writers must be able to work well with others. They are almost always part of a team: with other writers; with designers, editors, and illustrators; and with the technical people whose information they are explaining.”
Technical skills “Technical writers must be able to understand and then explain highly technical information. Many technical writers need a background in engineering or computer science in order to do this.”
Writing skills “Technical communicators must have excellent writing skills to be able to explain technical information clearly.”

The Systems Analyst

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is no such “systems analyst” occupational field. Instead, this has been absorbed into the Operations Research Analyst field, whose members:

  • Identify and define business problems, such as those in production, logistics, or sales
  • Collect and organize information from a variety of sources, such as computer databases
  • Gather input from workers involved in all aspects of the problem or from others who have specialized knowledge that can help solve the problem
  • Examine information to figure out what is relevant to the problem and what methods should be used to analyze it
  • Use statistical analysis, simulation, and optimization (minimizing or maximizing a function based on a set of variables) to analyze information and develop practical solutions to business problems
  • Based on their findings, advise managers and other decision makers on the appropriate course of action to take to solve a problem
  • Write memos, reports, and other documents outlining their findings and recommendations for managers, executives, and other officials

The qualities expected of Operations Research Analysts include:

Analytical skills “Operations research analysts use a wide range of methods, such as forecasting, data mining, and statistical analysis, to examine and interpret data.”
Critical-thinking skills “Operations research analysts must be able to figure out what information is relevant to their work. They also must be able to evaluate the costs and benefits of alternative solutions before making a recommendation.”
Ingenuity “Solutions to operations problems are not usually obvious, and analysts need to be able to think creatively to solve problems.”
Interpersonal skills “Operations research analysts typically work on teams. They also need to be able to convince managers and top executives to accept their recommendations.”
Mathematical skills “The models and methods used by operations research analysts are rooted in statistics, calculus, linear algebra, and other advanced mathematical disciplines.”
Problem-solving skills “Operations research analysts need to be able to diagnose problems on the basis of information given to them by others. They then analyze relevant information to solve the problems.”
Problem-solving skills “Operations research analysts need to be able to diagnose problems on the basis of information given to them by others. They then analyze relevant information to solve the problems.”
Communication skills “Operations research analysts need to be able to gather information, which includes interviewing people and listening carefully to the answers. They also need to communicate technical information to people who do not have a technical background.”
Writing skills “Operations research analysts write memos, reports, and other documents outlining their findings and recommendations for managers, executives, and other officials.”


Occupations similar to that of the Operations Research Analyst, according to the BLS, are:

 Economist  Industrial Engineer  Management Analyst
 Market Research Analyst  Mathematician  Software Developer

Systems Analysis

Merriam Webster defines systems analysis as:

“…the act, process, or profession of studying an activity (as a procedure, a business, or a physiological function) typically by mathematical means in order to define its goals or purposes and to discover operations and procedures for accomplishing them most efficiently…”

Compare & Contrast

Systems analysis requires one to examine a subject, either physical or intellectual, break it down to its constituent parts, and identify where, when, and how those parts work together…or don’t. Systems analysts, according to Wikipedia, typically perform these steps:

  • Develop feasibility studies
  • Identify the end-users’ requirements of a system through fact-finding
  • Identify how end users will, or do, use a system


These are the exactly the same tasks a good technical communicator performs. Successfully.

Typically, I (and all other professional technical communicators) research, coordinate, and author these documents for my clients:

 System Scope  Requirements Analysis & Definition  Design Specification
 Database Architecture  Application Programming Interface (API) Guide  Management (Network, Security, Administrator) Guides
 User Manual  Test scripts  Test Results Analysis

To Conclude

Unsurprisingly, you see that I show how and why a technical communicator is, and must be, a very good systems analyst.

…even though BLS doesn’t recognize the latter as an occupational field…