Using a Technical Documentation Consultant

Shawn Spencer
3 min readApr 20, 2021

Instead of sending your technical documentation staff to school, why not bring the instructor to them? Working with a documentation consultant that is willing to share his experience and expertise with your project team will considerably upgrade the talent and productivity of your documentation team members.

In today’s competitive market, time and money may be lost by employing antiquated documentation techniques. And, since most technical writers will try to impose upon you the techniques they learned at Company XYZ, be sure that your documentation is being developed via a process that fits your engineering process, that complies with your customer-imposed standards, and is performed by those with the needed certifications.

Knowledge of the latest and best methods and tools is key to creating top-notch documentation. Bringing the right documentation team with the right credentials and experience onboard is essential to completing your tasks correctly the first time.

Don’t get caught by the “Senior Tech Writer” trap. The vast majority of technical writers in our industry refer to themselves as “senior” if they have more than five years of experience, or if they lead a team of ONE. What they will not tell you voluntarily is that their experience may have nothing to do with your environment, or that their lofty title was awarded so their employer could bill the customer a higher hourly rate.

By infusing your documentation group with the latest industry techniques, methods and credentials applicable to your specific environment, you can provide your customers with the best possible documentation at the best possible price.

The following 20 items are some (but not all) of the real benefits that your company can gain by contracting with the right documentation consultant. As the scope and magnitude of the project expands, the potential value of the technical documentation consultant also expands. So, if you have been “on the fence” about hiring a documentation consultant, have been developing documents the same way for the past 50 years, or experience sticker-shock when he or she quotes their rates, these points should help change your mind.

The Documentation Consultant…

1) …represents his client to the customer and to that client he represents himself. His reputation is built solely on the quality of the documentation and accompanying process he produces. As such, his only objective is to do the very best job possible.

2) …has knowledge of pitfalls and problems that have occurred on past and similar projects, perhaps on your competitors projects. Avoid making the same mistakes.

3) …leaves the project design team members with an understanding of the documentation processes and an enhanced capability to document their own design.

4) …has experience working with design engineers and programmers, and is able to effectively communicate with them.

5) …knows how to reduce the burn rate of hours at the project startup.

6) …knows the right questions to ask in determining what the customer needs.

7) …can distinguish the customer’s “needs” from his “wants”. This is particularly useful during the proposal phase.

8) …is experienced in avoiding the costly pitfalls that can occur during a documentation development effort.

9) …can identify the high cost items from the customer’s document “wish list” and ensures those items are properly estimated.

10) …can provide insight into the documentation styles and preferences of other customers being solicited by his client.

11) …can educate your current documentation staff without the expense of sending them to school, or having to hire tech writers on a trial basis. With high personnel turnover rates, the consultant can also stabilize your team’s knowledge base.

12) …can identify the documentation roles and can choose the right people for those roles.

13) …can establish the objective of each document and ensure that objective is maintained throughout the effort.

14) …knows short-cuts for developing documents that can save money and time.

15) …can choreograph the documentation segment of design reviews to minimize document preparation and rewrites.

16) …typically has a network of other consultants that can be tapped to obtain information or fill voids in technical knowledge.

17) …is more likely to contact the customer for task or requirement clarification. In addition, can ask pointed questions at customer reviews and meetings without political reserve.

18) …knows which questions to ask and when to ask them to get timely answers that keep the work on-schedule.

19) …has experience working with the project and engineering managers to schedule meetings for engineering input and document review.

20) …is experienced at listening during customer meetings, and can get the answers that the technical writing staff will need to do their jobs