June 24, 2011

Technical Communicators as Knowledge Hubs

As a working technical communicator, I often found myself as one of the few people (and sometimes the only one!) in the company who knew exactly what products we were working on and where they fit into the company’s vision. To do my job of documenting the products and consulting on their usability (how a product helps users achieve their objectives with it), I spoke to every department in the company at one point or another.

I was mostly involved with the research and development departments, but I frequently spoke to or worked with marketing to understand the customer they were trying to reach, and to sales to find out what aspects of the product(s) buyers were most interested in. This information gave me a sense of who the end user would be and what their needs were for the product or service they were purchasing. In that way, I could orient my documentation more effectively toward the user’s tasks.

Because I had early versions of products and found many bugs or errors, I was well acquainted with the quality assurance department. With my mindset aligned toward the end user, I interacted frequently with customer support, getting to know the sorts of problems our customers encountered. That information prompted me to rewrite documentation to help customers avoid problems, and I participated in refining the user interfaces and features to eliminate problems altogether. The training department would often use my documentation as the basis of their training manuals, so I got to know the trainers well, too.

With knowledge of all the operational divisions of the company, it was normal for me to find myself in conversations with senior management as well as administration and finance folks. I don’t think I’m unusual as far as technical communicators go. Nearly everyone I know in the profession has realized that their reach penetrates into multiple areas of the companies for which they work.

Add to this the research, analysis, planning, project management, and interviewing skills technical communicators have, as well as their ability to walk into the unknown and make sense of it, and you have a resource that not only accesses and holds knowledge but knows how to transmit it to others.

If you have a technical communicator on staff, start looking at new ways in which they can benefit your company. If you don’t have a technical communicator or someone who performs those duties, get one. The value to your bottom line will be evident.

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