Although some feel the name of your tech writing department doesn't matter a whole lot (for example, TexasWriter says "Find out what people now call it. Ask what they mean by it. If it's accurate, use it. You aren't marketing, don't make it up"), actually your department's name does have an impact on the role you're expected to play.
For example, our current department's name is "User Education." Because of this, every time a user has a how-to question about the application, they send the user to me to be educated. It would not be so, I believe, if our department name were different.
Lately I've been having conversations with a QA guy as I carpool to work. We've been talking about roles. Because I am a "technical writer," he wonders why I feel I should comment on software prototypes, or interact with users. "You're a W-R-I-T-E-R," he says. "You shouldn't be interfacing with the customer. That would be overlapping other people's jobs. You should be writing help material. That's what writers do."
People make decisions all the time based on connotations of job titles and department names. For example:
In each case, I bet you leaned toward the first option. Your department's name does affect how others perceive the role of your department. I guarantee you will be asked to provide more user training and support with a name like "User Assistance" than "Communication Strategy and Design."
Given the importance of choosing a department name, here are some options. Many of these were sent to me by tech writers over Twitter. Others I pulled from the archives of the Techwr-l listserv.
And a few silly names:
None of the department names jumps out at me as "the one." In the end, I'm convinced that a slightly vague name is better than a limiting name. I'd rather be "Information Development" than "IT Documentation." In the former, you might contribute to prototype design; in the latter, you would more likely just describe the design.
I would rather be "Information Strategies" than "User Knowledge Center." In the former, I might make high-level analytical decisions about branding, user awareness, and task efficiency. In the latter, someone would assign me to assemble a knowledge base.
I would rather people said, "Communication Strategies and Analysis -- what the heck is that? Rather than "Learning Support? Oh, good, I have a group of new users that needs a Webex."
Have you ever had a department name that you worked against you? What department name do you prefer?
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I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.