Ratio of tech writers to developers

Subject: Ratio of tech writers to developers
From: "Chris Knight" <cknight -at- attcanada -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 2 Jul 2000 20:23:36 -0700

Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com> wrote:
> I'm interested in the average ratio because it's a good indicator of
> what companies might need more writing services. Although my last
> two companies have made hiring a writer a top priority (so that
> I was the fourth or fifth person hired), most companies don't
> think about documentation until they've grown more. So, if I know
> that a company has grown to about 15 developers, I also know that
> the company probably needs at least one writer.

The ratio is actually variable, varying with (according to Hackos):
* The complexity of the subject matter
* The familiarity of the writer with the subject matter
* The ability of the writer

When I last looked at this some years ago, the only hard studies had
been done by IBM, in their Federal Systems Division, what works for
the Defense Dept, and NASA, etc.
They concluded that a ratio of 7 software developers to 1 "information
developer" (which is what IBM called their writers and curriculum
developers etc.) was optimal.
I believe that Apple, by spending so much on the usability of their
spend less on their "documentation", more like 12-20 d/w (new unit,
I have never met a company that has a ratio such as IBM suggests in the
market that I know, which, by chance, is the same one Bruce works in.
I advise my clients based on the factors above. If the company plans well,
and hires the right people at the start, once they get through the team/
department building phase, the d/r ratio will probably be, e.g. 10-15.

Even though the d/r ratio is variable and continuous, whereas writers
and developers are quantized, the problem IS capable of analysis.
If this is the company that "has grown to about 15 developers", and it
has mostly relied on contractors, they probably need 1 permanent plus
contractors. If they figure on growing significantly, they might want to
show their commitment to that by hiring 2 writers now and then investing
as needed to ensure that they (the writers) understand the company's

> Similarly, if HR types see that there are 30 writers and only 1
> writer, then that's a good sign that they should look into the
> need for another writer.

Yikes, Bruce! Watch out for mister cut-and-paste

I have met VERY few HR professionals who understand what a
difference good writers can make to a company. The only ones
worked for companies that already knew this. It was part of knowing it.



Christopher Knight, Technical Communicator
E-mail: cknight -at- attcanada -dot- ca
Phone: (604) 877-0074

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