How to Work Successfully with a Technical Writer


How to Work Successfully with a Technical Writer

June 18, 2021

Yes, you can.

You’ve had the aha! moment: You’re pretty sure you need to hire a technical writer. Maybe you work for a startup and need to prepare content for your product launch, or for a large company that’s staring down a huge backlog of documentation projects. Maybe it’s your first time working with a writer, or maybe you’re ready to try again after a less than successful first attempt. 

Good Words writers have been helping companies from Fortune 500 companies to early-stage startups write clear and compelling technical content since 2016. We’ve learned a lot about what leads to the most successful engagements with writers. 

How are Technical Writers Different from Other Writers?

Our clients are deep in the technology space. As an engineer, developer, or product manager, you’ve gained highly specialized skills, knowledge, and language to talk about your particular technology, products, and services. Not every writer has the skills to communicate clearly about what you’re working on in the right format or for the right audience.  

Technical writers are experts in the technology industry. They thrive within product development lifecycles, and they’re experts at working with technical teams (without wasting those teams’ time). Technical writers distill very technical information so anyone can understand it, from novice end users to experienced developers.

Technical writing is a specialized communications field. Technical writers are masters of technical writing industry standards and best practices. They can deliver the right content in the right format to the right audiences.

Let’s talk about how to make sure your working relationship with a technical writer gets off to a great start. We’ve learned from our many clients that three essential ingredients are key to successful engagements with technical writers—realistic timelines, dedicated resources, and open access.

Reality Check: Time

About 75% of companies come to us with unrealistic expectations about how much time it takes to work with a writer, or how long it takes a writer to complete assignments. 

Writing effective, impactful content takes time, but it’s worth it. Here’s what you need to know to create realistic timelines for your documentation projects.

Allow 3 months at a minimum
  • In general, writers can make significant progress on your immediate needs in 3 months. It usually takes a writer two weeks to get up to speed on your company, products, and services, and a couple of months to bring the content to life.
  • Some projects take longer, especially if you have a backlog of content projects or if your products are extremely technical.
  • Settle on the right length for an initial engagement in conversation with your writer and your leadership team before you commit to a project.
Different content types have different timelines
  • Make sure you’ve identified all the different types of content that need support. For example, writing developer documentation requires different skill sets and timelines than writing for end users. The more technical the project, the longer it typically takes. 
  • Writers need committed time and input from subject matter experts (SMEs) for each content type throughout the lifecycle of the project. Get your SMEs’ input on timeline estimates and requirements before you begin.
  • Check your SMEs’ timeline estimates with your writer before you start and adjust, if necessary.

Dedicated Team Members 

Assign dedicated team members to the project in advance. These stakeholders will need to schedule time weekly to support your writer by answering questions, reviewing drafts, and providing feedback. One member of your crew delaying your timeline or failing to respond to a writer’s questions can create a bottleneck that will throw off your timelines and your budget.  

  • Different types of content require different kinds of expertise. Make sure you’ve assigned the right team members who can give your writer the information they need.
  • Make sure at least two team members are on call to support the writer, give feedback, and answer questions. Depending on the diversity of your content requirements, you might need several team members to support the content project.
  • Work with your writer to create a clear content list, schedule, and project plan, and make sure all stakeholders are committed to it.

Open Access

Your writer needs to master your vision, values, market position, and products quickly. Providing maximum access right from the start means that your writer can get up to speed immediately. With freedom of access from the beginning, your writer will be able to work more efficiently and independently, saving everyone’s time.

We agree with technical marketing manager Will Kelly’s insights in this post about hiring a technical writer:  “[Technical writers] should take the same onboarding path as the developers and other project team members you bring on board. Give them access to the systems they need to document in a sandbox running the same builds as everybody else.”

  • Treat your writer as a remote team member. Introduce them to your internal team and help them to understand what everyone does and who can help them. 
  • Invite your writer to your key systems, such as Slack, Google docs, your knowledge base, or a testing environment. 
  • Share pitch decks, marketing collateral, blogs, product descriptions, documentation, product demos, and brand guidelines if you have them.

Get these essential ingredients right from the beginning and you’ll be off to a solid start on your adventure finding and working with a technical writer. 

Want to learn more about what a technical writer can do for your team? Contact us.

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