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Technical Writing by Mark Metcalfe, Publications Professional

I was a technical writer for 16 years before managing technical writers. We are a peculiar bunch of folks - kind of like the high school band - talented, but a little quirky. Most of us are introverted and we get our kicks from composing information that people find useful. (I am one of the extroverted ones.)

While writers focus on their products, a writing manager has a broader focus on the corporate brand. A manager that merely maintains the status quo, by having the team update operational information, is not producing good documentation. After nine years of managing people who are cut from the same professional cloth as I am, I reflect on the following qualities of a good documentation manager:

Innovation and leading-edge technology use employs new techniques to transfer knowledge better. For example, multimedia content lets a customer watch a 3-minute demonstration rather than having to read several pages of documentation. (It has the added benefit of keeping writer skills current in a competitive market.)

A long-term vision develops a well-architected information system, plans a phased evolutionary path, and steadily executes on the plan.

Customer focus involves finding out what customers think that they want, but also markets the value of documentation to the customer. It is a proactive approach that communicates to customers that we understand their wants and needs, and respond to them, and include innovations that they should like.

Initiatives drive internal process improvement, such as defining best practice content, developing short-term and long-term strategies, working with internal and external customers for value-added documentation, helping to produce marketing brochures, just to name a few.

A proven track record of quality shows up in awards and other forms of recognition, indicating a pattern of excellence.

I am certain that other successful managers can add to my list. I will only add that I believe it is imperative that a technical writing manager understands technical writers and the value of content development to the company, even when others in the company cannot quite understand how good documentation affects the bottom line. (I have already blogged about how poor documentation definitely impacts the bottom line.)

Mark Metcalfe

P.S. I played first trombone in the school band.

Posted on Wednesday, June 17, 2009 11:18 AM | Back to top

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