How to Successfully Onboard Technical Writers for Your Knowledge Base

With AI and GPT assisting with all things content, the role of the technical writer may be diminishing. I don't see it this way.

Sure, AI can create a Knowledge Base article. But it will take a lot of work to make something that makes sense and is readable.

Technical writers are still integral to a good Knowledge Base. Writing is just the tip of their job role—organization, SEO, and championing self-serve help make them worth hiring.

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A robust and technical writer-lead Knowledge Base propels companies toward success in the ever-evolving landscape of modern businesses.

Whether you're a tech startup or a seasoned business behemoth, establishing and nurturing an efficient knowledge repository is paramount.

Here's the problem: How can you make sure your freshly recruited technical writer successfully implements and maintains your knowledge?

This is precisely where a meticulously crafted onboarding strategy takes center stage.

We shall embark on a journey through the intricacies of onboarding Knowledge Base technical writers. Brace yourself for actionable insights and an arsenal of tools to make the process smoother.

Why Hire a Technical Writer in The First Place?

Technical writing isn't a well-known career, even though poor writing skills cost businesses billions of dollars.

Many teams will ask their support hires to write technical documentation. As teams grow, this is still the go-to strategy.

Eventually, support hires will grow into managerial positions, leaving a gap in knowledge and an increasing strain on new support hires to carry the torch and pick up where they left off without proper training.

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When you bring in a technical writer, you're inviting someone who knows how to write for a specific audience and can tailor their approach to fit your company.

It'll free up your new support hires to focus on customer-facing issues and pass any feedback or issues onto your expert technical writer.

The technical writer will also champion and maintain your Knowledge Base, ensuring it's up-to-date and valuable for customers.

The Current State of Technical Writer Onboarding

While tech companies often boast about their standardized onboarding processes for developers or project managers, they rarely think about the unsung heroes of technical communication—the technical writers.

"Imagine jumping head-first into your company documentation. Where does it start, and where does it end? Inside large companies, it's often split into different software"

You see, a substantial chunk of a tech writer's mission involves unraveling the mysteries of how products function.

Sadly, they can sometimes feel like modern-day code-breaking detectives left to their own devices upon entering a new company, with the daunting task of deciphering the enigma that is their role.

Imagine jumping head-first into your company documentation. Where does it start, and where does it end? Inside large companies, it's often split into different software.

Developers might use GitHub and document there. Marketing folks might use Airtable for their editorial calendars. External documentation might also be split between all-access and restricted plan-specific content.

The Benefits of Spending Time to Create a Strategy to Onboard Technical Writers

Let's first ponder why crafting an onboarding strategy is as essential as that first cup of coffee on a Monday morning.

Underestimating the value of a well-structured plan is like embarking on a cross-country road trip without a map or GPS.

At first, you can wing it and rely on instinct. But you'll be lost in a maze of confusion and inefficiency sooner or later.

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In the context of onboarding Knowledge Base technical writers, the absence of a well-structured plan can lead to chaos, missed deadlines, and a general sense of disarray.

A well-structured plan acts as your navigational guide, ensuring everyone is on the same page and moving in the right direction. It provides clarity, sets expectations, and establishes a roadmap to success. Without it, you risk wandering aimlessly, making costly detours, and wasting precious time and resources.

Here are some benefits:

  • 🗺️ Clarity of Purpose: A well-crafted onboarding sequence provides clear objectives and expectations for your Knowledge Base technical writers. They'll understand their role and how it fits into the broader company mission
  • 🔋 Efficiency: A structured plan streamlines the onboarding process, reducing the time it takes for the writer to become productive
  • 🌳 Consistency: With a defined strategy, you consistently onboard all your new technical writers, maintaining quality and standards

Getting Your Knowledge Base Technical Writer Onboarding Process Right

How to create a process that fits your company and the technical writer you've just hired is not always obvious. Technical writing is a very specific field with no one-size-fits-all approach.

Here are some ideas to make the process a lot easier for everyone.

Create a Positive Work Environment

Building a positive work environment is critical to the success of any new team member. Here's some tips on how you can achieve that: 

💝 Be Welcoming and Inclusive

Start by warmly welcoming the technical writer. Make them feel valued and part of the team from day one.

This fundamental need is the missing puzzle piece that companies often need to remember to include in their welcome package for new tech writers. Encourage team members to introduce themselves and offer assistance.

Be sure to ask for pronouns and ensure they also know how to write for inclusivity.

🤝 Training and Mentorship

Assign a mentor to guide the writer through the initial stages. This mentorship can significantly accelerate onboarding and help the writer adapt to the company culture.

At the start, you'll likely want to check in with your technical writer every few days. After a few weeks, you could switch to twice weekly. After a few months, consider weekly or every two weeks.

🔄 Feedback and Recognition

Regularly provide constructive feedback and recognize their contributions. A positive feedback loop boosts morale and encourages growth.

🛠️ Offer Tools to Make Life Easier

Onboarding can be a breeze when you have the right tools. Here are some essential ones: 

Internal Documentation: Maintain a comprehensive internal documentation system. It serves as a valuable resource for the technical writer and keeps them up to date with company policies and processes.

Task Management Tools: Equip your new tech writer with the right gear, and they'll sprint toward productivity faster than a caffeinated squirrel on rollerskates 🐿️🛼

Trello and Asana are popular for streamlining technical writing workflows, task allocation, and tracking progress.

Email Sequence: An email sequence tailored for Knowledge Base technical writers can be a game-changer.

It provides a structured means of communicating critical updates, project timelines, and content requirements.

This sequence can include onboarding emails introducing writers to the company's Knowledge Base, regular reminders for upcoming content submissions, and notifications about crucial changes or additions to the Knowledge Base.

Emails like this keep the team informed and foster a sense of cohesion and shared purpose. 

🌌 Keep Your Guidelines Top-of-Mind 

When bringing aboard new technical writers to construct a Knowledge Base, the significance of consistency in writing style cannot be overstated.

"It serves as the North Star for maintaining uniformity and quality in documentation"

It's the cornerstone of clarity and user-friendliness. To ensure this consistency, make sure that style guides and templates are easily accessible and emphasized during onboarding: 

Style Guides: A comprehensive Knowledge Base style guide equips technical writers with the tools to create consistent, straightforward content that aligns with the company's objectives and values.

It serves as the North Star for maintaining uniformity and quality in documentation. It typically includes providing clear writing style, tone, and formatting guidelines.

The guide should address specific points such as preferred language and terminology, citation and referencing standards, procedures for handling technical jargon, and any industry-specific conventions.

Templates: Offer templates for common types of articles or documents. This will save the technical writer time and ensure uniformity in content creation. 

🌱 Create a Review Cycle

Think of the review cycle in Knowledge Base creation as the sturdy backbone supporting the entire structure.

Without this critical backbone, your Knowledge Base could become wobbly, with the risk of misinformation or confusion creeping in. The review cycle is the process that ensures the quality, accuracy, and coherence of the content.

Your new technical writers' content is reviewed, revised, and refined during this cycle. Errors are caught, inconsistencies are rectified, and clarity is enhanced. This will matter deeply as your new writer starts to work through documentation.

Subject-matter experts and peers can act as vigilant guardians. They can ensure every piece of information created by the new writers aligns with the established standards and meets the audience's needs.

Define Review Stages

The initial step in the review process for a Knowledge Base technical writer is to define review stages.

That involves outlining the various phases through which the content will pass before publication, which might include: 

  • Peer reviews where fellow writers or team members assess the content for accuracy, clarity, and coherence.
  • Subject matter expert (SME) reviews where experts possessing in-depth knowledge in the relevant field ensure technical accuracy and alignment with industry standards.
  • Final editorial reviews focus on polishing the content for grammar, style, and consistency. 

Create a Feedback Mechanism

A feedback mechanism will give your new Knowledge Base technical writers insights into what they're doing well and where they can improve.

It also ensures they align with your company's expectations—style, tone, and content requirements.

Feedback also acts as a quality control tool to help catch errors, inconsistencies, and inaccuracies so your knowledge base retains its integrity and reliability.

A feedback loop also encourages collaboration and teamwork. It fosters open communication between writers and their mentors or peers, promoting a sense of belonging and shared goals.

Have Regular Meetings/Async Reviews

Communication is critical to successful onboarding. Schedule regular meetings and asynchronous reviews to keep everyone on the same page:

Regular Meetings: Hold weekly or bi-weekly meetings to discuss progress, challenges, and upcoming tasks. That will foster a sense of accountability.

Async Reviews: Use collaboration tools like Google Docs, Slack/Microsoft Teams, or specialized content management systems for asynchronous reviews.

This will allow team members to provide input at their convenience. 

Create a Comfortable, Consistent, and Collaborative Environment

Onboarding technical writers to uplift your company's Knowledge Base isn't just a wise move; it's an investment that keeps giving.

By creating a well-defined strategy, nurturing a positive environment, leveraging the right tools, emphasizing style guides/templates, establishing a review cycle, and maintaining open communication, you set the stage for success.

Remember, a knowledgeable and engaged technical writer can be the linchpin to a thriving Knowledge Base that propels your company forward in its industry.