At a recent WritetheDocs meetup, technical author, Jenn Lambourne, spoke about using paired writing as a collaborative documentation task in the Government Digital Service. This was the first time that I heard about paired writing in the realm of documentation.
In paired writing, one person writes while the other talks about their ideas and/or comments on the content. Once the participant that is writing has completed their portion of the task, the roles change. Only one person at a time can be at the keyboard.
I believe that paired writing is effective in ensuring that content gets produced — the powers of two people are combined in one activity — making it potentially very effective for use in Agile sprints.
Jenn’s presentation of this topic was interesting and gave me plenty of food for thought, which I have collated in a series of questions. So over to you…
What is a suitable timeframe for a paired writing session?
Some people work well in short spurts of concentration, while others can write continuously for an entire morning or afternoon.
What are the job roles of the paired writing participants?
Do both participants have to be technical writers? Can one participant be a Subject Matter Expert while the other the writer?
How effective is paired writing when there is a writer-SME combination?
What if there are personality conflicts between the participants?
Personality conflicts are a fact of life in the workplace. Should this activity be attempted if two do not get along? Does paired writing require a mediator?
If both participants are technical authors, what are the skill levels of the participants?
In a technical publications team, you often have junior and senior technical authors. Do the participants need to have the same level of skill? Or is paired writing a good way to get a junior author up-to-speed?
If both participants are technical authors, how much knowledge of the product do they need to have?
Technical authors new to a company may not have the same product knowledge as senior personnel. Is paired writing a good way of getting a new author up-to-speed with the product? Is this activity best-suited for two authors of the same level of knowledge?
What type of documentation is paired writing best suited for?
Is paired writing best suited for product overview, marketing, or concept content? With these types of documents, one can write without interrupting the writing flow. Note that writing product guides often involves testing the software while writing — perhaps this type of document is too complex for paired writing.