Re: Technical Writers per Developer

Subject: Re: Technical Writers per Developer
From: Don Child <Don_Child -dot- DATAHOUSE -at- DATAHOUSE -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 13 Jan 1995 07:15:58 HS

Chris Grierson writes, "The Technical Communications Department here is
interested in determining some kind of "standard" or accepted figure for the
number of technical writers that a company should have per developer. The
Society for Technical Communications was unable to help, and a search of the
literature did not produce any results. Any numbers from other organizations,
or any ideas on how to find this data would be appreciated."

Here at DataHouse, I am sometimes the only technical writer for 50 to 60
developers, who may be jointly working on as many as 20 projects at a time. I
have been aided at times by as many as 2 other writers. My duties also include
newsletters, PR, white papers, presentations, training, graphics, developing
Web home pages in HTML, etc. I get the feeling there is a sizeable community of
tech writers and trainers who have to wear several hats. Note that DataHouse is
an employee-owned company, so everyone in the company has a big stake in
corporate profitibility. I could ask for more tech writing support, but found
it better to establish documentation standards and an ad hoc in-house style,
then train analysts to write their own documentation as far as possible. I
frequently see a document for the first time in the 95% draft stage. When that
happens, I make editorial suggestions and provide guidance that will make the
documentation more usable the next time around. Some analysts just cannot be
trained though. For them, I keep a pulse on their project, and try to budget
time when I know they have a project that will need some end-user

I might also mention that this many-hats and train-the-analyst approach works
in part because we provide a lot of local support, being far and away the
largest independent consulting firm in Honolulu. The documentation for a
project may be targeted at a very limited audience of users who know the
members of the development team, and who know they can call on us if they have
problems. When we develop a product for wider commercial release, or develop a
major system, for the State government for example, I have to dedicate more
time to the project, or find another writer to support me.

I'd be curious to know how many other technical writers have to spread
themselves thin. I would guess there are regional differences, and differences
depending on industry.

Don Child
don_child -dot- datahouse -at- datahouse -dot- com

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