Nothing can eclipse a good writer

A couple of recessions ago, U. S. companies started to cut back on the their technical writing departments. Instead of large, stable writing groups, companies hired more contractors as needed, while a small core group tried to hold things together. Then outsourcing became the fashion, where documentation could be had for cheap. When you send development of your technical publications overseas, you bump your ability to communicate with customers a couple of steps down on the corporate priority ladder. It confirms the general idea that before you ship your product, you must check off the tech doc box.

So fifteen years ago, during the doldrums that followed the Y2K excitement, you started to hear technical writers say that the profession would not last much longer. It seemed to have no staying power, because no one wanted to hire a technical writer. I argued that companies always need people who can write, which means they need people who can do research and communicate what they learn. These skills are valuable no matter what job label you apply, because if a company can't communicate with its customers, it ceases to exist. Good writers seldom feel unneeded.

Here's an interesting thought, related to the function that writers perform in a company. As more companies evolve toward a service model, where customers essentially outsource a segment of their operations, good technical writing becomes altogether more critical. Both customers and internal customer service people need excellent, up to date information, ready to hand, to make the service model work. Because the technology you deliver changes so fast, good communication becomes a key bridge to success in a service model.

On the older model - where you simply sold a product - you could slide with inferior information because your competition's was just as bad, and customers put up with it. When customers pay out a substantial subscription fee every month or quarter, they'll be far less tolerant of an operation that looks even partially incompetent. So writers have become important people! A company cannot give good service if its representatives - who have to learn somehow - do not understand how to make a complicated operation work right for a particular customer.

Customers don't especially care just how their vendors implement a service model. They just want key IT and software operations to be totally reliable and, from their point of view, maintenance free. That does not happen with inferior documentation, nor does it happen without competent, technically proficient communicators.