Technical writers add value to organizations, there’s no question there. But one strength in particular is a double-edged sword. That strength is when the technical writer becomes a subject-matter expert (SME).
Technical writers typically are exposed to every aspect of a product. In order to educate end-users, writers embark on rapid learning sessions in order to turn around “how to” documentation or videos. Because technical writers are so vested in their learning, they are more likely to retain it in the long run. Not to mention, every single detail is likely to be scrutinized because writers can’t omit anything from their instructions. Unlike project teams, who typically focus on one segment of the overall product or keep a 30,000 ft. level view, technical writers work across teams and exposed to, well, absolutely everything.
Over time, it’s possible (and likely) that no one will know more about a product more than the technical writer.
The problem is… most people do not, at least initially, associate a technical writer with being a SME. Yes, there are some key people who will see that value, but it’s difficult to show hard statistics associated with being a SME – something that is important when making tough decisions in a restructuring.
The lesson here is to always look for ways to add value to an organization, even if it’s outside of writing (be flexible!), and make those value-adds visible to teams. While niche specialities are the trend, it’s possible that being a jack-of-all-trades can make you indispensable, especially if you can see the value add in those “trades.” Change is the strongest motivator to learn and you can create a win-win situation with the right attitude.