The writer on the team

There’s an interesting discussion on HN about the value a strong technical writer brings to a team. I’d say much of this is also true about a strong content designer, who often is the only person in an organization communicating across many teams, often has deep knowledge of a product and the reasons decisions were made.

Some highlights from the discussion:

But a different question is, why is no company trying to do this differently? Like, hiring one good tech writer to maintain the company documentation, and paying them as much as they pay the developers.

I once worked at a company - in a different domain - that made a conscious decision to make this kind of hire. It worked incredibly well, and I never understood why more companies didn’t do it. The context in my case was the Australian offices of a management consulting firm (BCG). The Melbourne and Sydney offices hired what were called “editors”, brought on at the same grade as the consultants. Not editing as in correcting grammar. But helping the consultants improve the logic of the arguments in their slide decks: so they were logically consistent, easy to understand, and actually addressed the clients’ issues. I was a junior consultant back then, and we were constantly pushed by our managers “have you seen Yvonne?” [the Melbourne editor] when preparing for major presentations.

A previous team I was on ended up with this role. Strong writer with no technical skills joined the team and worked hand-in-hand with engineers fleshing out docs. It was productive for the engineers because they needed to articulate the ideas very clearly. The writer has been attached to that project now for 6-7 years at this point, and could probably stand in as a support engineer for some problems. It was a little painful getting HR to approve a tech writer getting paid close to an engineer position (this was after a few years).

I do like the sibling comment calling for a librarian. I imagine that would pay a ton of dividends if the librarian was motivated and got support.

And the crux of it:

As a tech writer, I think this is because it’s hard to concretely quantify the value that a tech writer brings, and thus it’s hard to make a clear business case for.

The whole discussion is worth a read.

I especially like the idea of the tech writer (or content designer) as the team librarian. And of course as our society is devaluing libraries, even though they bring immense value, it’s an uphill battle explaining to the bean counters why you need a librarian, an information architect, or a writer.