Many subject matter experts (SMEs) reach out to technical writers once a document has been drafted to help edit and prepare it for delivery. However, an experienced writer can provide valuable project support from the moment a documentation need is identified.

Collaborate for Client-specific Results

Any successful project requires close collaboration. Even if a technical writer doesn’t have a background in a specific subject, a strong technical writer will have the ability to identify, organize, and synthesize pertinent information more efficiently than SMEs. Partnering with a technical writer early on can take much of the burden of managing a documentation project off SMEs, freeing the SMEs to focus on providing key inputs that only they can provide.

Plan the Project Requirements

From the project outset, technical writers can provide insight for project execution from previous experience. Working with the SMEs, technical writers can clarify the document’s goal and determine the objectives required to reach that goal. From there, the audience is defined. The audience makeup informs the breadth of content needed and the complexity of language used to convey the content.

Hands-on Information Gathering

Technical writers turn into private investigators when it is time to gather information. Writers will set up interviews with SMEs to ask questions designed to acquire the relevant information. A lot of questions. Using direct, open-ended, and even seemingly simple questions, the technical writer helps an SME fully connect with their head knowledge. Depending on their day-to-day involvement with the topic, it may be second nature to them, and they could accidentally leave out basic but critical information. For insight on knowledge capture and cognitive task analysis, see the blog and webinars by Sheila Mitchell, Ph.D., on the Radiant Digital Insights web page.

Technical writers can dig through existing documentation and perform research online or through other available resources to improve how they ask questions, help fill in gaps, or improve their understanding to produce a more accurate and complete document.

In addition to gathering words, a technical writer can help locate images, design new images (possibly with the help of a graphic designer), and can collect any required screenshots, as applicable.

Organize for Understanding and Execution

While technical writers may have experience with the project’s topic, they do not live and breathe it, so they provide a valuable outsider’s view of the information. This allows the technical writer to see the information, so the SME does not—a new angle—and logically organize the document to serve the specific audience and task best. Does the audience need to learn to use a software application? Does the audience need to follow a Health, Safety, and Environment process to avoid environmental damage or legal repercussions?

Technical writers will organize each document depending on the required task and the capabilities of the audience. While documents can be similar, a cookie-cutter approach is rarely the best solution.

Complete and Concise Writing

A technical writer is, as the title implies, a writer. A technical writer that organizes and writes a document helps reduce the time required to edit the document. Often an SME’s role does not require much writing that will be published for a mass audience. This sometimes results in SMEs creating documents that are verbose or that are unnecessarily complex. While writing, a technical writer removes extraneous information and determines where additional information or clarification is needed to produce a concise document that meets all identified objectives.

Content-focused Reviews

Using a technical writer to gather and build the document can accelerate and improve the review process’s quality. The document will begin in a cleaner state allowing the reviewers to focus on content correctness and completion, not if a period is missing or a diagram is misaligned. Those reviewing the comments won’t have to wade through comments about errors that should be caught during proofreading.

Technical writers keep communication lines open throughout the process to efficiently organize multiple reviews by multiple reviewers while maintaining version control. Reviews start with the SMEs closest to the project and expand to a larger but limited audience. Depending on the scale, timing, or importance of the document, the technical writer can set up review workshops. Here, key personnel reviews the document with the writer in real-time, allowing an open discussion of questions, concerns, and comments. Any pressing issues can be addressed more readily and more completely than in a series of emails or calls.

Finalize and Deliver

When stakeholder reviews are complete, and all comments are accounted for, the technical writer then performs a final review of all the document aspects. This review includes links to cross-references and websites, labels for figures and tables and their references, the table of contents, formatting, and all of the regular proofreading items. They can then package the document in the required format—Word, InDesign, PDF—and deliver it as specified in the project requirements—email, save to a shared drive, upload to a CMS or a digital asset management application.

“Just Editing”

Does all this mean that a tech writer shouldn’t be used for editing? Absolutely not! When a technical writer edits a document, they will still follow the same process—on a smaller scale—as they edit.

Before beginning, they will learn the objectives, goals, and audience of the document. While editing, they will proofread the document to fix the standard issues—spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.—but will also review for clarity, completeness, and organization. They will work closely with the designated SMEs—asking questions and making suggestions—to help ensure the document serves the intended purpose.

Summary of Benefits

A technical writer on a project team can:

  • Closely collaborate with SMEs and project management
  • Provide insight for project execution from previous experience
  • Determine the breadth of the content and the complexity of language
  • Allow SMEs more time to focus on their daily job requirements
  • Include input from more SMEs
  • Provide an outsider view of the information
  • Organize information for the specific task and audience
  • Reduce the time required for writing and editing
  • Accelerate and improve the quality of reviews


The flexibility and versatility of a technical writer can help with any technical communication project. Whether SMEs have already written a document or the information still needs to be pulled from the heads of a knowledgeable staff member or whether this is the first or the thousandth technical document, a technical writer is a valuable asset to include on the team. Radiant Digital and its team of experienced technical writers are ready to help your company meet its technical communication needs.