RE: Persuation (Long Response)

Subject: RE: Persuation (Long Response)
From: "Murrell, Thomas" <TMurrell -at- alldata -dot- net>
Date: Thu, 6 Jan 2000 08:46:48 -0500

Bernice Kieffer asks:

> Question: If you only had 15
> minutes, what arguments would you use to convince someone that they
> should hire a technical writer for thier next writing project?
(I'm going to start by suggesting that you not read this post if you already
know all of the reasons why technical writers should always be hired for
every writing project. You won't like what I have to say. However, if you
are REALLY interested in understanding how you might persuade a manager to
hire a technical writer for the new writing project, you might want to
consider some of the points below.)

The answer to your question is going to depend on the attitudes of your
audience. Whom are you trying to convince? What does your audience know
about technical writing and technical writers? Have they ever used a
technical writer for a project in the past? Do you know what the results
were? Specifically, if your audience was dissatisfied with their technical
writer in the past, what were the issues?

When I taught Freshman Composition at the college level many years ago, the
final paper of each quarter was a Persuasion paper. Most of my young
students found this the most difficult paper to do because it required the
most work on their part as writers coming to understand their audience and
the issues their audience face in whatever the writer (or in your case
presenter) is trying to persuade them to do.

You see, most writers, when faced with the task of persuading someone,
marshal all of the arguments they believe are valid-- that is, they organize
all of the arguments that _prove_ their case, with little regard to the
issues their audience face that have kept them from what the writer believes
is the One True Course Of Action. When presented with this a "persuasive"
argument that does not address the audience's real concerns, at best the
audience responds with "Yeah, but...." and tunes the writer out. At worst,
the audience just stops participating in the first paragraph. In both
cases, the writer loses.

I'm betting that you know all of the reasons why a technical writer should
be used on a writing project, but do you know why a reasonable manager would
NOT use a technical writer for the project? In fact, that is the first
thing to keep in mind: your audience is made up of reasonable people who do
not use technical writers to meet their documentation needs. Why would
reasonable managers do that?

The first thing that comes to my mind is expense. Managers have budgets and
headcounts to which they are held accountable by their management. Adding a
writer may strain both budgets. However, if they can show how adding a
particular skill (in this case a technical writer) may actually save money,
the manager might actually be able to make the case to higher management.

So, if we assume that you can make a rudimentary case that hiring a
technical writer will be a cost saving (will offset some other budgetary
expense), then we have to move to some intangibles. Believe it or not, most
managers hate the hiring process. You have to submit a request. The
request has to be reviewed at Zeus alone knows how many levels. Then you
have to advertise the position in some way. Then you have resumes coming in
that have to be screened. Then candidates have to be interviewed, some more
than once. Finally, you have to settle on a candidate, make an offer,
perhaps haggle over terms of employment, before you FINALLY have the new
writer on board. But the manager isn't done. Now the new writer needs
space and facilities, training in your product and processes, etc.

Meanwhile, there is that feeling that they project could be half-done
(totally finished?) if I didn't waste all that time looking for a writer.

Do you begin to see why reasonable managers don't hire technical writers?
I've just scratched the surface, and in fifteen minutes you will hardly have
the time to address all of the possible reasons someone might bring up.
What I do want to suggest--and I would suggest this to the entire list--is
that virtue and truth are never enough to persuade anyone of anything.
Ultimately, your audience wants to know "What's in it for me?" Whether you
are making a presentation to a class or actually trying to persuade your own
management that you need a(nother?) writer, the first thing you need to
understand is why they don't already have one.

How will a writer be cost-effective? How will a writer be time-effective?
(Remember, in business cost and time are often equivalent, but sometimes one
is more important than the other.) What negative experiences has management
had with technical writers in the past that might make them NOT want to hire
another one, EVER?

Please remember that I'm speaking as a technical writer who has had to
justify both hiring additional staff and even hiring ME to sometimes
skeptical management. I haven't always been successful at my most
persuasive, but I've never been successful when I didn't understand what my
audience's concerns were.

Tom Murrell
Senior Technical Writer
Alliance Data Systems, Inc.
Dallas, Texas & Gahanna, Ohio
mailto:tmurrell -at- alldata -dot- net

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