Chapter 7: Hiring, Training and Managing Documentation Teams

Discussion Summary

Most of the discussion centered on hiring technical writers, with emphasis on the skills a candidate must have and how to screen for them.

Required skills

Curiosity was repeatedly mentioned as one of the most important skills for a technical writer. According to the participants in the conversation, a technical writer would manifest this curiosity as:

  • Anticipating the user’s needs and understanding why a feature would help the user
  • Being the person who always asks “why” and wants to understand how everything works
  • Knowing the difference between “how something works” and “what you can do with it”
  • Eagerness to learn and question everything
  • Using the product from the perspective of an end-user and providing feedback

Transferable skills were mentioned, especially since most of the participants did not have formal study technical writing. The prior jobs of the participants ranged from journalism and translation to support and software development.

The myth that “devs cannot write and writers cannot code” was also debated. In the end, most of the participants agreed that the myth is not true; the goals of technical writers and developers are generally the same, and collaboration helps create a better end result for everyone. including the end-users.

Hiring writers

In many cases, writing samples are requested as part of the interview process. But how can hiring managers decide whether the quality of a sample reflects the knowledge of the candidate? Some suggested questions:

  • Were you the primary writer or just an editor?
  • How did you gather the information?
  • How do you approach work for a new feature?

Hiring in countries where technical writing isn’t an established profession brings unique challenges, especially if the writers are non-native English speakers. A few ways of dealing with this:

  • Hire expats (native English speakers).
  • Hire locals who are proficient in English and train them in technical writing/technology.
  • Work with universities to promote the profession among students (potential future employees)

Customer feedback

The book stresses the importance of customer contact. In some cases, technical writers are unable to contact customers directly, but customer feedback is very important, regardless of whether it comes directly from customers or through support teams or forums.

Collective intelligence

This part of the chapter was all about sharing information. Some people the Slack group had problems when it came to sharing information - either the team was unwilling to collaborate with the technical writers or the information was scattered among different locations or departments. Some tips to improve collaboration:

  • Publically-accessible documentation of the styles, processes, etc.
  • Technical writers talking about their work in meetings, “show and tell” style
  • Attending meetings with other departments