SUMMARY: Justifying More Tech Writers

Subject: SUMMARY: Justifying More Tech Writers
From: "Laura Winkelspecht" <daisylion -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Thu, 02 Dec 1999 08:18:41 PST

Here is a summary of the responses I received to my post last week regarding justifying more tech writers. In my post I asked for help in convincing management to add more tech writers to help write internal policy and procedure documentation. I also asked how many tech writers other financial services companies have on staff.

I would like to thank those that responded. I now have more ideas to work with. I am still having a hard time finding data to support my case when the documentation is for internal purposes only. Any other comments?

Laura Winkelspecht

Tom Murrell wrote:

Been there. Two years ago, when I hired into my current position, I was the one and only professional writer in the place. It took about six months to win the trust of those many people who either felt they didn't need a professional writer (we've always done all the writing we needed ourselves)or whose experience with contract TWs was such that they felt all TWs were merely editors and rewriters. Then I began to get swamped, too, which of course led to a need to justify more staff.

Here are a few of the things I pointed out. First, in most successful
writing departments I've known, the documentation budget runs about 20% of the development costs over the lifecycle of the product being developed.(Of course, your mileage may vary.) Naturally, managers blanched at such a large increase needed to "do the job right." No matter, I settled for what I could get and did the best I could. But I always come back to that budgetary need whenever the question arises as to why some things don't seem to get done.

Second, I continue a longstanding policy of always saying Yes to all
documentation requests. However, I make sure to show the requester both my workload and timeline along with project priorities. I point out where I think their request may fall in the grand scheme of things, which is usually later than they would like. Then we can talk about alternative solutions. Given the constraints of budget and staffing levels, I try to suggest hiring a reputable contractor to fill their need (they pay but the writer works under my standards, for consistency).

Sometimes we can add the writer permanently once they have shown that they do good work and the other area finds out that they can't do without that resource. I'll grant that this is a slow process, and there is always a risk of upsetting a manager who is convinced that her project should have a higher priority than management is willing to assign it (I'm not management, by the way). But I find that working with managers and letting them make the priority calls keeps the heat off me (I still have more to do than I can get done). I also am finding that over time management is beginning to look
at staffing for writing differently.

Now I talk to them about maintaining documentation once it is developed (another part of that 20%). Again, the eyes roll and the feeling is that we can't afford the expense. So I will let nature take its course. Going into the New Year, there are now three full time associates on staff, myself and two others. Between us, I expect to double that number to six by this time next year. Maybe I will, and maybe I won't. But I just let the work, and
the numbers, speak for themselves. And I let them come around to my
position as they are able.

It seems never-ending, and I doubt I'll ever have what I feel is needed, but I do feel confident that we'll have a full service documentation group soon

Paul Hanson wrote:

We took a proposal to our management. We are a software company and have 5 different development teams. We asked for 1 writer for each team. Don't know if we'll get it, but we based our request on the idea that there should be 1 writer going to all of the meetings about changes to the software a team is responsible for. I am the only full-time person right now and I, too, am terribly swamped. We have a release of our software going out early next week and so I'm designing our Windows/GUI panels. Never mind that I got handed a bunch of specs clipped together with the task of getting a document together by 12/10. No pressure here.
I won't start working on it today, but hopefully Monday . . .

Sandy Harris gave the following URL:

Some stuff on estimating tech writer loads/costs:

Ginger Moskowitz provided this:

I am in the same boat, buy my company is a lot smaller (around 125 people). Still, I repeatedly asked and was finally promised a fellow writer in first quarter of next year. My justification was simply "I'm swamped; things aren't getting done." My boss was aware of what projects I was working on, what was coming up in the future, and what was getting left un-done. I didn't have to provide hours or dollars.

I think your bosses may not be aware of what goes into documentation, so you could educate them on that. Sometimes they think you just have to run the spell checker on an SME's spec, re-format the doc so it looks pretty, and voila. Of course a lot more goes into it, like researching and learning about what you're writing about, planning, and time to proofread/edit/rewrite. Once you total up these hours, it becomes clearer why you need another writer on board. It all depends on how much accurate documentation means to the company. If customers are reading it, then it should be important to them.

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