Where do technical writers fit in an organisation

Where do technical writers belong in an organisation? Which team should we be part of? This is an interesting question that many of us are asking. I don’t have an answer. In fact, there are probably as many answers as there are possibilities, because each organisation is different, and so is each technical writing role. But I do have some musings and two presentations to introduce.

Where we end up in the organisation can affect the way other people see us and our contribution to the company. It can affect our own perception of our purpose and goals. It may even affect our ability to do our job, if our position in the company determines the access we have to information, technology, and other resources.

Sometimes, we’re lucky enough to have a say in where we end up. That’s when it becomes really interesting, because the choice may not be easy.

Where do we belong?

Here are some of the possibilities:

  • Engineering and product management: Technical writers work closely with the software developers to understand the ins and outs of the product. It’s also very useful if technical writers can give early input into the design of a product, taking advantage of the user-focused nature of a technical writer’s role.
  • User experience: Technical writers, UX designers and UX researchers are focused on the needs of the customer. They often work closely together in producing the documentation and other user aids, even if they’re not part of the same team.
  • Support: The documentation is an essential resource for the support team. Working as part of support can give technical writers direct access to the requests and problems reported by customers.
  • Marketing: The documentation is an important marketing asset, and the level of technical detail in the documentation tends to yield excellent SEO (search engine optimisation). Technical writers and marketers often find themselves writing about the same products and topics, especially at the launch of a new product or feature. Marketing teams have great resources for customer analysis, and a flair for words.
  • Developer relations: This is a team of people with various roles, including technical writers, software engineers, developer advocates, marketing leads, and others. The team acts as an interface between the internal teams who’re developing the products, and external developers/customers who’re using the products. The products are developer-focused, including APIs, SDKs, libraries, and so on.
  • Change management: See the comments on this post for discussion.
  • Any more?

Two takes on working with product teams

Recently I presented a webinar on working with an engineering team, and I attended a talk by Craig Simms on integrating more closely with a product team. It’s interesting to compare these two takes on the topic.

Webinar: Working with an Engineering Team

The ASTC (Australian Society for Technical Communication) and I recently collaborated to host a webinar on working with an engineering team. You can watch the recording below, and on Vimeo. The slides are available on SlideShare.

Click the play button to view the video above.

Talk: Integrating with Software Product Teams

At a recent Write the Docs meeting, Craig Simms presented a talk on how technical writers can integrate more closely with software teams. It’s a zestful account of the journey he and his colleague have taken towards becoming integrated with a product team, and the lessons learned during that journey. The recording is on YouTube, and embedded below.

What do you think?

Where do technical writers fit in, and do you know of any other presentations that talk about integrating with various teams?

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 13 November 2016, in technical writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Great article, Sarah! I believe it is a big benefit for a technical writer to belong to the Engineering and the Product Management team. Being friends with the developers/testers is a win-win situtation for the technical writer as well as the quality of the content. First-hand information of the product from the Product Managers, to detailed insight from the testers, to technical information from the developers, will surely help us in developing the product knowledge.

    It is good to be friends with the one from where the information is coming. 🙂

    • Hallo Altaf

      Thanks for your comment! It’s made me think of another possible place we fit in: change management.

      In various roles in my tech writing career, I’ve been part of the engineering/product team, part of the developer relations team, part of a change management team, or kind of drifting as a free entity. I think you’re right that working closely with the engineers and product managers is essential in many situations.

      The role where I worked in change management was a little different, in that the software changes were made as a result of much larger environmental changes, and these changes integrally affected the processes of the end users. Working with change managers was a very interesting and educative experience.

      Cheers
      Sarah

      • That’s a good point, Sarah! In my previous organization, I was also a part of the Change Management team. It is a good entry point to know about the incoming feature requests and bugs. However, this can get a bit overwhelming if you a working on a big product that includes many modules.

        In addition, the time that goes into discussing and taking the feature request into production is huge (considering the engineering teams agree or disagree to take it).

        Engaging withe the Change Management team, attending the scrums, delivering the content per sprint, the tasks are humongous (we TWs are super efficient 🙂 ).

  2. Greetings from France!
    I work with a software firm (https://www.ibe-software.com/) that makes technical writing tools (http://helpndoc.com/).
    Thanks for the great article. We’d like to reproduce this on one of our blogs. We’d also be love a chance to collaborate with you on future pieces. Interested?

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