Throughout my time as a technical writer, I’ve been surprised to discover just how hard it is for some companies to determine where technical writers fit in their business.
Some companies consider technical writers to be an extension of their engineering team. Others, however, see them as a part of the marketing and business side of the business.
Some companies see technical writers as both. The role changes from marketing to IT depending on the needs of the moment. To this end, the technical writer would report to both IT management and business management.
I see technical writing as an indispensable part of a company’s engineering team.
Technical Writers Work Best with Engineers
Whether you’re documenting for clients or internal IT staff, the technical writer works best when he or she works directly with engineering.
I’ve worked for major corporations with thousands of engineers, documenting internal systems and processes for releasing software updates. This required unfettered access to the engineering teams. I could observe and document their processes, ask questions, and test the information out for myself.
By separating the technical writer from the engineering team, you’re essentially putting shackles on their ability to efficiently perform their duties.
Would a police sketch artist be as effective if they couldn’t interview the witness?
Technical Writing and Product Promotion
Where some companies see documentation as a marketing tool, treating the writers of the documentation as such is grossly counter-productive.
Copywriters have a different skill set than technical writers. While, yes, they are both responsible for writing information in clearly, they are serving an entirely different purpose.
Copywriters need to keep things short and pithy. Bullet-points and catchy slogans are part of their tool set. For technical documentation, details matter and abbreviation is discouraged.
This isn’t to say that good documentation isn’t a conversion driver. It absolutely is. It shows that your business cares deeply about the customer’s experience, and speaks positively about the product’s overall quality.
Engineers Need to See Writers as Peers
Internal politics are another big reason to keep technical writers on the engineering side of the business.
No matter how small or large your company, engineering teams and business teams will disagree on execution and priorities. Let’s face it, the two sides of a business can work together cordially but they are rarely in lock-step with one-another.
By embedding a business team member into the engineering team’s meetings, you’re essentially putting obstacles between the writer and the engineer’s rapport. That rapport is absolutely essential, and no good technical writer can excel at their job without it.
It’s important that the engineering team sees the technical writer as a peer, and not as a blocker.
Technical writers are an important part of a company’s IT team. While, yes, much of their work overlaps with the goals of sales, marketing, and business, their core focus should be on getting solid information from engineers and turning it into exceptional documentation.