Tech Writing Collaboration

Often people are asked to collaborate in technical writing projects. How to manage such projects?

In some projects somebody might be appointed as an editor. That is a sane decision and helps ensure consistency and quality.

Often this is not the case. In some environments anybody contributes to the documentation. Writing skills vary. Typically the skill level is basic education and little more. These days with texting being popular, writing skills have plummeted.

Tech writers are a unique breed. Tech writing is not just writing but is about communicating complex ideas in a way that users understand. There are various ways to present that information. Tech writers learn to master those tricks.

A challenge experienced tech writers might have with collaboration projects is an absence of consistency and quality.

Without an appointed editor or project manager there is no way to manage the content. This is something that must be accepted by more experienced writers.

Many documentation projects are maintained by volunteers. Asking collaborators to enroll in a writing class is a sure way to alienate those contributors.

Style guides help collaborating users, but do not expect unskilled writers to pay much attention to such documents.

In addition to style guides, online documentation tends to benefit from various tools. For example, a knowledge base (KB) using wiki software. Being based on HTML, by design wiki software contains built-in tagging to help with page layout and structure. The software will include plugins to support inserts such as tips, notes, and warnings. These tools help enforce the style guide.

When participating in such collaboration projects, experienced tech writers should not agonize about writing skills. These collaborators have ordinary writing skills. They are not and never will be professional writers or communicators. Don’t try to mold them into that. That would be self-defeating.

Change the focus. Some nominal documentation is better than nothing.

Create an environment where contributors feel motivated and encouraged to add content. Edit content and coach when asked, but do not attack their pride after adding content.

Be satisfied when content is understandable. Help contributors understand some nuances of writing content. For example, encourage less skilled writers to break a paragraph into a list or numbered steps.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: Tech Writing

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