The other day Sarah Maddox posed the question Where do technical writers fit in an organisation? It’s a question my colleagues and I have bandied about for most of my 30-plus years working in technical communication.
The answer has evolved during those 30-plus years. And it’s tempting simply to throw up my hands and give the standard consultant’s answer: it depends.
Sarah doesn’t advocate for any one answer, either. Instead, she deftly states the case for including technical writers in each of these parts of the organization:
- Engineering and product management
- User experience (UX)
- Developer relations
Here’s what I make of it.
We’re not an island
There’s one place in the organization where the technical writers definitely should not be, and that’s off by ourselves.
I didn’t always feel this way.
Early in my career, when technical writing was still being defined as a profession, it was important for the writers to establish an identity as a team and emerge from the backwaters of wherever they’d been placed on the org chart — usually in product development.
In companies that formed separate technical writing teams, the writers were better able to collaborate on tools, training, and best practices. Their managers could fight for a place at the table alongside development, marketing, and support.
The separate-team approach was what I experienced at IBM, and it wasn’t until maybe the mid-1990s that we, as a profession, had evolved past it. Continue reading