Ratio of developers to technical writers

How many developers/engineers are there in a typical product development organisation, and how many technical writers? It boils down to this: How many developers are at the top of the funnel, creating the new features and updates which pour into your well of documentation work?

A quick Google yields some interesting surveys.

Average 12 to 1: Posted on KnowGenesis (November 2007). Based on 162 responses. Plenty of other interesting stats in this article too. And a recommendation that the an optimal ratio is 5 – 7 developers per writer. Does anyone inhabit such an ideal world?😉 An interesting point: The very same research and result were published by Cherryleaf in April 2003.

Mostly fewer than 10 to 1: From KeyContent (March 2007). Based on 30 responses.

Average 42 to 1, but mostly fewer than 24 to 1: From the Suncoast STC (March 2006). Based on 10 responses, the average is 42 developers to 1 technical writer. But 7 of the 10 responses gave a ratio of 24 to 1 or fewer.

Typically 8 to 1: From Scriptorium (2001), in their Software Development Executive’s Guide to Managing Technical Publications.

What about me? Well, it’s difficult to be precise. We have 3 full-time technical writers and somewhere between 60 to 70 developers, depending on how you count ’em. In the technical writing team, we divide the work by product rather than by number of developers. Let’s go with this: If we count only developers but not support engineers or other teams who funnel work our way, it’s approximately 30 developers to 1 technical writer.

What about you – do you find this interesting, and what are the ratios you have experienced?

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 2 March 2008, in technical writing. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. This is always a fun one to talk about. Management loves to bring this question up whenever I ask for more TW help. But as you say, it’s not an easy one to answer. In my 7 years of experience, I’d say that it would depend on how complicated the product is, rather than how many developers are working on it. That should be the question, rather than what the ratio of TW to developers is.

  2. Agrre with Julia – comparing those numbers is a fun exercise – but it doesn’t really mean anything. The complexity of the product is what really determines the number of people – but how do you measure complexity? Is it determined by the number of writers per product feature/component? that would be interesting to see.

  3. Thanks. KnowGenesis seems to have taken all of its technical writing articles from our Web site without permission. Grrr.

  4. Indeed, ratios don’t mean much. However, the fewer the better is my opinion.
    At the moment I’m writng for only 6 developers, but they develop 7 different products, so that again illustrates the fact that it’s the complexity that counts, not the dev-tw ratio.

  5. We keep a 20 to 1 ratio here. Just FYI.

  6. I work for NI R&D in Shanghai and the site established the technical communications department recent two years. We are way understaffed for the amount of projects that are done in Shanghai, but hiring good tech writers in China isn’t easy! Meanwhile, the half the developers work with the tech writers in the U.S. Not any easier.

  7. Hi Susan, That sounds really interesting🙂 Long-distance documentation is becoming more and more prevalent. We have just opened an office in Gdansk, Poland, where development work is done. So I’ll be working with them while I’m based in Sydney. We also have an office in San Francisco. The time zones make it fun too!

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