How do you write your documentation? Do you work from drafts? Do you create content based on information sessions, functional specifications, or slide decks? Have you considered writing as a group activity between you as a technical writer and your technical expert?
What does writing as a group activity look like?
It's all about relationships and networking. Rather than a series of time-consuming mails or endless comments on a shared document, the writer and expert work together on a phone call or a face-to-face meeting.
This fosters a shared understanding and improves the relationship between writer and expert. What could become a long - and possibly irritating - email chain, instead becomes a short exchange of sentences with a natural relationship building component. By writing together, the participants both reap benefits.
Why would an expert invest time in this?
First off, they usually save time and learn from the experience!
The expert doesn't have to write drafts (some find this activity painful) and can reuse the content created for their own slide decks and other materials. In my experience, writing with the expert saves a lot of time on both sides and results in a much better relationship between the two parties. Experts can find fielding endless questions by mail or comment function enormously time-consuming; using the group writing method they can clarify any issues in a few short sessions.
The expert gets insight from the questions writers ask as the "first user". Writers offer a different perspective and because they must write a process in detail, they often find little issues or potential pitfalls that the “big picture thinkers” miss. In this way the expert too must think more deeply about the topic. This helps the expert and development team later when smart documentation heads off potential support tickets.
Writing as a group activity enhances the relationship between expert and writer. In my personal experience I’ve seen experts go from slightly hostile and annoyed by constant questions, to being eager participants in the documentation process. By writing documents together we save time and build a positive relationship based on trust and mutual respect.
Over to You
We’ve found collaborative documentation writing to be a powerful tool in many situations. What do you think? How do you collaborate with your experts? Do you see writing as a group activity as a possibility for your area? Let us know in the comments!