Do you really need a technical writer for your knowledge base?

Building a knowledge base for internal reference or customer self-help is a long-term commitment. You not only need to dedicate resources up front in order to stock it with valuable content, you have to decide how to maintain it on an ongoing basis in order to keep it relevant and up to date.

Your resource allocation decision often depends on what type of product or service you're supporting and whether the complexity or level of detail will require the skills of an experienced technical writer. Whether you have the need of a technical writer or not, there'll be times when an engineering approach to writing content for a knowledge base makes the most sense. Other times, that task can be part of the customer support role.

A knowledge engineering approach requires subject matter experts or a dedicated technical writer or documentation team to write and review all the content before making it public. A more demand-driven approach puts the production and maintenance of knowledge in the hands of the whole team with the support agents as the driving force.

The case for knowledge engineering
Technical writers and experienced documentation teams are particularly skilled in making even the most complex information easier to understand, so there are certain situations where this approach is the only sensible way to go.

If very high level of accuracy is important, the knowledge engineering approach is a good choice, since both accuracy and consistency of style and tone are easier to achieve with professional technical or documentation writers. Also, the content creation process tends to be more formal and thought out when it is a standalone function, and the quality of the content often reflects that fact.

Another good use case for knowledge engineering is any instance in which the product or service being supported does not experience frequent or significant changes. If there's not much change in the product or environment, then there's no need to factor in frequent additions and updates to your knowledge articles. You can make the investment up front to hire a contract technical writer to create your knowledge base from scratch or even to introduce upgrades or new products. A good writer will be skilled at anticipating questions before they come and can help you seed the knowledge base with great articles that will stand the test of time.

The case for demand-driven knowledge
Demand-driven knowledge, on the other hand, integrates content creation with your support process. It accepts that knowledge is always changing and improving, and that's reflected in the way knowledge base articles are written and improved over time.

For example, agents search for known answers in the knowledge base when they're working a support ticket; if they don't find an answer, they create a new knowledge article. If they do find a relevant article that's out of date or incorrect, they fix it on the spot or change it to 'draft' so it can be reviewed and updated.

Naturally, not everyone on your team will have an affinity for writing help articles, so keep articles in draft or internal-only mode until they can be reviewed by another team member.

Two key components of a successful demand-driven approach are:

  • Pre-defined, clearly structured templates for guiding agents on what information to include
  • A well-understood content standard explaining precisely how to write an article

Through experience and ongoing coaching from capable team members, you'll see improvements in the quality of internally produced articles from your support staff. As you identify the agents that write the best help articles, you can promote them to Help Center manager roles, so they can directly publish their content to your self-service portal.

The case for having it both ways
In many cases, a blend of these two approaches works best. Your technical writer can produce the customer-facing articles, while your support team collectively owns and manages the internal knowledge base. By analyzing search results, you'll know which internal articles are used most frequently. With just a little editing, these most-used articles are great candidates for external publication, driving an increase in ticket deflection.

Whichever approach you take to creating your self-service content, encourage your support agents to search the whole knowledge base (including the community) for known answers before spending time and effort to rediscover each solution all over again.

What's your documentation process? Head over to the Zendesk Community to talk about it! Participate in the discussions around topics including: Do you use templates to guide your agents or tech writers?

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