How to Setup a Technical Writing Department

This year I’ve helped two companies setup their Technical Documentation Departments. To be honest, they call them Technical Communications Department, but that’s another matter. One of the problems in getting the dept setup was communicating the value that the tech docs dept could offer other business units and also how it would save them money. In the end we got there but there was a lot of negotiating and arm-twisting along the way.

Setting up a Technical Writing Department

1. Get Management Buy-in

Before you start, Senior Management has to believe that the new department is critical to the company’s future business success.

  • If you have to convince your Managing Director that you need to hire professional technical writers and they can’t see the value in providing this service, then you may need to re-consider if it’s worth the effort. Let’s assume they do. Make this your first priority!
  • Canvas other departments to see how they would *benefit* if there was a reliable Technical Documentation Department.
  • Start to ‘plant seeds’ in the other Line Manager’s minds.

2. Set Goals and Expectations

Identify where you want the Technical Documentation Department to go both short and long-term. Paint a picture for the new recruits and build enthusiasm.

3. Hire a Guru or else…

When starting a new group, get an experienced writer up-front so that your Dept can be productive from day one.

  • You can then hire newbie writers, such as graduates, and include software training and Business English skills as part of their initiation.
  • Try to hire writers who are familiar with the tools and productive.
  • If you need to prioritize, hire someone who can get things done with little or no learning curve and can work without too much direction.

4. Recruit the best people

First decide what skills you need in people, advertise, and set about interviewing Hire a Senior Tech Technical Writer first, so you can balance graduates with experience.

  • Hire experience writers first or you will spend all your time training and nothing will get out the door.
  • A senior writer can take up the slack while you train the new recruits. As part of the training plan, consider skill sets first and which are easiest to train and which are bought with experience.
  • Hire people you get along with. In a new department, you need absolute control and TOTAL support from your new writers.

5. Technical Writing Software & Setup

Determine what you need, and then buy it.

6. Budgeting

Make sure you have enough finances to cover training, recruitment, setup and whatever else. Once you get handed a budget the first time, your plan may help persuade Senior Management that you need more money for starting up the department. In time you will have the experience to work with accountants that control these budgets.

That’s how it worked for me. What did I miss?

About the Author: Ivan Walsh helps companies develop web-based content management systems. Remember to get his free newsletter above!.