Friday, October 28, 2011

Evaluating Tech Writer Performance

It's that time of the year again: performance review time.  As I sit here making my way through the stack of  reviews in front of me, I'm reflecting on the process.

I actually like perf reviews.  I have a very strong team.  Perf reviews give me the opportunity to reward the ones who really nailed it this year, and to give others the feedback they need to be one of the writers I'm rewarding at this time next year.

Also, perf reviews give me a chance to celebrate all the great work my team has done over the past year.  Tech writers are invariably on the forefront of the most exciting new technology, and needless to say, there's a lot of fun stuff going on at Google.

Essentially when I'm evaluating tech writer performance, I look at three things:
  • What did the person write?
  • How good was it?
  • How hard was it to write?
What did the person write?
My team comprises about 25 writers, give or take.  That's an extremely lean team when you consider everything we write:,,, and more.  In any given year, most of my writers write the equivalent of at least a couple of books.  They stay busy!  

How good was it?
I read what my team writes, and look for clarity, completeness, and quality.  I also look at stats, such as Analytics data, bug queue metrics, and forum data, that objectively tell me how effective the docs were.

How hard was it to write?
This is the tricky one with tech writing.  You often have to dig to find out what's behind a document.  It might take a day or a month to write the same one-page developer guide; there's really no way of telling on the surface.  It depends on what source information there is to start with, including specs, other docs, or sample code, how complete the API is, how well-designed the API is, and how helpful the related subject matter experts are.  The only way to find this out is to keep in close communication with the writer, and to solicit feedback from the team the writer works with.  

My team has several different levels of tech writers; some straight out of college, some with a long career history under their belt, and many in between.  In general, the more senior the tech writer, the more self-sufficient they should be, and the better they should be able to find creative, strategic solutions and guide the work of others.

How do you think tech writers should be evaluated?  If you work with another role, what differences or similarities are there in how performance is evaluated for that role?

1 comment:

  1. A hard one to measure, but an important one for tech writers is how well they are able to drive the content of others, especially on high profile writing projects. This can be something as simple as a review, but it can also be a complete restructure/refocus of content that someone else has written to make the document actually effective. You can usually tell the success of a writer at supporting others by the relationships he or she has developed over time.