A Practical Guide To Hire A Technical Writer For Your Tech Team
A stronghold of technical concepts is necessary to write about any specific technology. But writing and coding are distinct skill sets, and hence, few experienced developers indulge in professional writing.
At Merrative, it took us multiple paid trials, hours of recruitment work, and a loss of USD 1000+ with unsatisfactory work to find our first 15 technical writers. In response to this, we designed a system to hire technical writers for our marketplace.
Read more to know how we scaled our technical writer talent pool from 15 to 150 and tips for hiring a technical writer.
Who is a technical writer?
A technical writer understands the underlying technology of a product to write technical documentation, blogs, whitepapers, or other communication formats.
At Merrative, we believe that talented tech writers should have the necessary expertise in the technical subject to understand how a product or feature works and write about it in simple, clear, and concise language. A technical writer is usually employed across companies in industries such as Technology, Healthcare, Finance, etc.
Job description of a technical writer
What sets technical writers apart from other professional writers?
Deep knowledge and understanding of technology. These skills are crucial to delivering solid technical documentation. Technical writers usually write for CTOs, developers, and even non-technical customers. Having such a varied audience means technical writers have to constantly tune their tone, information depth, and jargon usage as per the audience.
Key responsibilities of a technical writer
Ensure your technical writer candidate can do the following:
- Research the product and grasp concepts of the underlying technology used to make the product
- Understand and follow technical content guidelines defined by the brand to draft technical documentation
- Work with team members across Product and Marketing to draft appropriate technical content
- Work with the Design team to create relevant diagrams, charts, code snippets, etc.
- Take feedback from team members, customers, and beta testers to align the content with their requirements.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) for a technical writer
Use the following KPIs in the job description:
1. Technical accuracy: How well does your technical writer know your product? Are they adding correct code snippets to the content when needed? Define KPIs to measure how accurately the writer is presenting your product – a useful way is to design a technology or product onboarding for new joiners. Managers can also conduct regular tests or workshops about the product to align technical accuracy.
2. Readability: Technical content tends to get higher grades in online editors like the Hemingway app. This can be very misleading. Define an acceptable readability score for the hired technical writer or check how their published content performs. A great way to check the usability of written content is by asking for feedback. For example, Google takes feedback on its product support content by asking the reader ‘Was this article helpful’ with Yes/No options. This helps the support team understand the usefulness of the content published.
3. Adherence to content guidelines: Define non-negotiable key content guidelines that the technical writers should follow
4. Collaboration: Define KPIs that include getting feedback from customers, other teams, and/or testers as part of the review process.
Average expected pay for technical writers:
According to Salary.com, the typical salary for a full-time technical writer ranges from USD 54,945 to USD 68,512 in the USA. For a freelance writer, the compensation for a technical blog post ranges between USD 350 to USD 1000+ depending on the content format and expertise.
When should a technology brand hire a technical writer?
A technology business requires a technical writer to cover the following content formats:
- User manuals: Step-by-step instructions about using the product
- Whitepapers: Authoritative reports to educate potential customers about your product use case or industry
- Developer documentation: Create guides and help tutorials for developers to build using your product’s ecosystem
- Newsletters: Email periodicals about your product, new features, and other information critical for engaging potential customers
- Technical blogs: Search Engine Optimized technical blog posts as per the company’s content marketing strategy.
Hiring a freelance technical writer v/s an in-house technical writer
Choosing between freelance and in-house technical writers depends on the number of content projects and expertise required.
For example, if your company plans to publish only three to five whitepapers a year, it doesn’t make sense to hire a full-time employee. On the other hand, if your publishing strategy includes multiple technical content formats, a freelancer may prove to be expensive.
What makes a good technical writer?
Apart from the non-negotiable exceptional writing skills, check for these top 3 must-have hard skills in your technical writer:
- Technical research skills: A good writer must thoroughly study your product, technology, and user experience to craft well-researched content.
- Writing skills: Technical content can be very dry and hard to understand. A good writer, using speech to text technology, not only writes grammatically correct content but also knows how to make really hard concepts easy to grasp for laymen, without sounding condescending.
- Visual communication: A technical writer may have to present instructions using diagrams, charts, or infographics. For this, they may have to work with a designer or need adequate visual communication skills to showcase technical diagrams. It is important to know how and when to use visual communication in your content to create impact, as well as resonate with the audience.
Check for these top 3 must-have soft skills in your technical writer:
- Empathy: A technical writer simplifies technology for common users. Empathy is key to ensuring they write what the reader can easily understand and implement.
- Attention to detail: Without attention to detail, a writer may publish wrong instructions or help instructions that hurt the brand’s credibility.
- Adaptability: Technology is constantly changing and a technical writer should know how to adapt and learn to keep up.
How to hire a technical writer? – the 5-step hiring process
At Merrative, we are a publishing talent marketplace that helps brands and publishers with thought leadership content. Here’s how we designed a process to hire a technical writer to save recruitment costs:
Step 1: Set the right expectations
Paid trials are expensive in the technical writing field. Hence, setting budgets and processes is key to ensuring you do not waste money in doing paid trials with unqualified technical writers.
1. Write technical documentation and create content guidelines
Creating content guidelines specifically for your technical content acts like a checklist for gauging how well the writer fits your requirements.
2. Create content brief templates for various content formats and topic segments that need to be covered
Having templates handy for the required content formats helps quickly assign paid trial tasks to selected writers. Save topic clusters for paid trials to test writers based on their experience.
3. Prepare agreements and fix a budget
Ensure that you sign agreements to protect your company data, product designs, and other key internal information as writing assignments may require sharing them. Have a budget in place to test technical writers accordingly. In our experience at Merrative, it is better to hire experienced writers who may charge more but produce quality output.
Step 2: Set up a ‘Write For Us’ program
‘Write for Us’ is one of the key ways in which writers and agencies approach companies they would like to work with for at least guest posting opportunities. This is a great way to collaborate with writers who are genuinely interested in contributing to your content library. It also reduces your recruitment efforts. Epilogue’s (Merrative’s in-house publication) ‘Write for Us’ page generated 100+ applications within 3 weeks of its launch.
Step 3: Create a technical writer interview checklist
Create a checklist of questions to ask potential technical writer candidates. Questions about company culture fit, professional experience, and technical expertise is a great mix.
Step 4: Set up a technical writer paid assessment workflow
At Merrative, a writer is selected based on our internal selection guidelines of educational qualification, industry experience, and professional writing experience. Then, we gauge the writing style and technical depth of the relevant samples shared by the writer as per our content guidelines.
We approach writers who meet our qualification guidelines for a paid trial assessment post negotiating budgets. On submission of the writing sample, we check how much they have adhered to our content guidelines and then proceed with more projects.
Good execution of Step–1 is crucial to ensure smooth trials in Step–3.
Step–5: Onboard the hired technical writer into your content production system
Like any new recruit, the newly hired writer, too, has to adjust to your company’s workplace culture. Having a good onboarding process ensures they are trained in using the product and tools used in your organization. Set up a meet and greet with the existing team for smooth collaboration.
Hiring rubric used by Merrative to filter the top 5% of technical writers
Here’s a hiring rubric used by Merrative to hire technical writers:
If you would like to understand more about our technical writer hiring process, feel free to email email@example.com to schedule a chat. You can also download this hiring rubric and more resources from our free writing resources section.
5 tips for hiring the best technical writer
Here are 5 best practices used at Merrative that might help you streamline your technical writing hiring process:
- Stress on experience: At Merrative, we have experienced how writers who had graduated with a software degree, have worked in the software industry, or wrote about software as a hobby produced the best content compared to other candidates.
- Don’t take unprofessional behavior lightly: One of our writers in the talent pool submitted content with 3% plagiarism and defended it by saying how ‘3% is alright’. Eventually, we observed how the writer indeed slacked off multiple times in terms of adhering to defined content quality standards. Seemingly small but unprofessional behavior can add up as you work together and eventually become a problem.
- Review writing samples or portfolio: it is possible to understand a writer’s skill by gauging how they have structured their portfolio. For example, a diverse portfolio suggests a lack of subject matter expertise. Ask for relevant samples on topics your brand aims to cover and check the depth of writing. Carefully analyzing portfolios helps avoid unnecessary paid writing tests.
- Do not use job templates: using job description templates may dilute your branding and may not be enough to attract the right applicants due to being ‘general’. Carefully research what you require in your candidate and state that in your job description.
- Use screening tools: it is common to receive thousands of technical writer applications. There are many dedicated hiring tools like LinkedIn, Upwork, Workello, etc that help with test assignments and recruitment.
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