programmer Technical writing in open source software

Google's Season of Docs is a grant program to help open source software projects improve their documentation.

I've worked in open source software communities since 1993, and I can tell you the documentation in open source software projects isn't always great. That's not a big secret; I think most open source software projects would agree that their documentation needs a little work.

The problem is that developers are not very interested in writing documentation. They'd rather write code, add new features, and fix bugs. Writing the documentation is an extra burden at best, and an afterthought at worst.

Google's Season of Docs aims to give open source software projects a boost by helping connect developers with technical writers. According to the website, Google Season of Docs awards grants between $5,000 and $15,000 to support documentation projects in open source software.

What to expect

Between February 22 and April 2, open source organizations can apply to take part in  Season of Docs 2024. Google expects to announce winners in early April, and accepted organizations should hire technical writers by late May. Accepted organizations hire technical writers directly.

Technical writers who participate in the program should bring previous experience, and be organized and motivated to work on documentation. Participants should expect to commit between five and thirty hours per week during the program, from late May to late October.

Throughout the Season of Docs timeframe, organizations will need to provide monthly updates to report on the status of their efforts. A final project evaluation will be due from late November to early December. You can find the full timeline on Google's Season of Docs website.

A great opportunity

Google's Season of Docs is not meant as an introduction to technical communication, but I think it can be an excellent first professional opportunity for technical writing students who are looking to their final year at university. I'm not part of the Season of Docs project, but I can make some guesses about what to expect.

The skills required will vary depending on the project, but it's fair to anticipate participants will write "how to compile" instructions, "how to contribute" new-user guides, and other "how-to" documentation for general users. I would expect a variety of writing technologies and formats, probably focused on HTML, Markdown, and wiki text.

But technical communication is more than just technical writing. Successful participants should also bring technical editing skills to support open source projects that already have some documentation - albeit documentation that needs edits for grammar, spelling, organization, and clarity. I think participants might also exercise information design skills so they can restructure information so users can parse it more easily. Finally, I recommend some familiarity with usability. While usability testing is out of scope for Season of Docs, technical writers can be more effective if they have some previous experience in understanding how users approach information; that's a key component of usability experience.

If you're interested in applying to Season of Docs as a technical writer, read the Technical writer guide. Writers should prepare a portfolio with writing samples and a resume. See the 2024 participants page on the Season of Docs GitHub for more details.