Should We Add Names of Authors in Technical Documents

Very often, students write to me to explore  technical writing as a career option. Sometimes even experienced writers write to me for guidance, ask me queries, and enquire about processes and tools. Most of the time, I write back to them or even talk to them. But at times, I also refer them to other experienced writers to discuss about tools. It is always best that people with relevent experience talk to them.

One of the queries the writers with 1-2 years experience often ask is: “Shouldn’t the new documents, especially those written from scratch does not contain the name of the writers.” They usually ask this question if they have written a new document. About 90-95% of the time, technical writers only get to update the already existing documents. So, writing a new document is usually a rare experience for the technical writers.

Product documentation contain all the details of the product that are to be shared only with the customers (internal and external) who read the document to understand how to use the product. These are usually shipped with the product or is available for download in various formats: PDF, HTML, XML, or CHM.

On the other hand, marketing documents are to be shared with a wider range of audience to create awareness of the product with the idea of advertising the product or the newly added functionalities of the product.

Note: Things may work differently in different organizations. This is my opinion based on a number of disussions I have had with writers working in various organizations.

What Type of Documents Include Names of Authors?

Documents like white papers, technical papers, marketing documents, etc. may contain the names of the authors usually a subject matter expert (SME). In most of the organizations, these documents are handled by the Marcom (Marketing and Communication) team.

Some organizations create brief documents written by SMEs that represent the author’s perspective on a particular topic. It is usually strategy oriented, describing industry trends and emerging technologies. They are basically marketing documents and so contain the names of the authors.

Though such documents contain the name of the author, personalized email address is not added for communication. Instead, an alias containing the names of the editors (or a few marcom team members) is used. They maintain the list of publications across business units (BUs).

Why Shouldn’t We Include Names of Authors?

As a rule, we don’t add the author’s name to product related documents like the user’s guide, installation guide, API documentation, getting started guide, release notes, and so on.

Organizational reasons:

    • Any work done in an organization is the intellectual property of the organization. So, even a new document/manual written by a technical writer won’t be credited by the name of the writer.
    • Credited authors can show off their work outside the company (even during interviews) since they are the authors.
    • In most of the organizations, all employees sign  the Confidentiality and Intellectual Property Agreement when joining according to which they should not share/trade secrets or company specific information
      • of the previous employer with the company they are joining
      • going-to-be employer (at a later stage) with any other new employer.

Departmental reasons:

    • For product documentation/manuals, the organization is considered the author. That is, the users/audience consider the document(s) to be organization specific rather than author specific.
    • Organizations don’t churn out new documents every release. So, even if we mention the name of the author(s) for a new document, we cannot continue giving the credit to the writer if he/she
      • leaves the organization.
      • works on some other project the next release.
    • Most of the documents are updated release after release. So, neither can we give the credit of the entire document to the person updating it nor is it possible to change the name(s) of the author for each release.
    • Considering the fact that most of the organizations are single sourcing the content and also using content management system, writers owning a document may not even write some modules/sections/subsection. They are usually written by other writers and plugged into the document. In such case, there will be a lengthy list of authors.
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