Soliciting opinions - What would you do - LONG

Subject: Soliciting opinions - What would you do - LONG
From: "Teresa Scheuerman" <t_scheuerman -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Thu, 24 Feb 2000 10:32:36 PST

Please bare with me as I describe the situation:

I work with one other technical writer at a software company. We are in a recently formed department called "Education and Documentation" which is a subdepartment of Client Services (encompassing Client Support, Client Care, and Education and Documentation). There are two "trainers" in this department.

Our product is quite complex and both of the trainers moved to training from implementation and consulting. Therefore, they know the ins and outs quite well (including a lot of information that the trainees don't need). I've been with this company for six months. The other writer has been here for a year and a half. She inherited the user's guide and installation guide from a contract writer and is the main author on these documents. We have another product coming out soon but no documentation has been done yet.

Since I was hired, the main priority of this department has been the development of introductory training materials on our main product. I spent the first month training and familiarizing myself with the company, the industry we are targeting, and the software. I worked for a short time on an industry-specific training guide (a work in progress). While I was doing this, the trainers started writing the training materials. When they finished (long past deadlines due to their ongoing involvement in support and implementation issues) their large lump of "writing" was passed onto the technical writers. I had created a FrameMaker template and the trainers wrote the materials in Word. Only the writers have FrameMaker. As writers, our tasks over the next several months were:

a) import documents into FrameMaker
b) format documents so they work in the template
c) import screen shots (and recapture the poor quality captures, of which there were numerous)
d) edit the less than stellar writing of the trainers.

We thought this was the end. The understanding was that the trainers have to do the writing to save time (i.e. there is a time crunch so it's easier for them to write rather than us getting the info from them...oh and they're trainers and we don't have the background to write educational materials).

We are now converting the user guides from Word to Frame (to save future headaches, etc.). This will be complete by the end of March. Talk has now turned to the development of the advanced training materials which the trainers are scoping out (when they find time between support calls and implementation issues). To give you an example of what we're facing, this is an e-mail from one trainer to the writers and our manager:

"Developer and I have discussed advanced application and created the frame. She will not have time to create the materials, so I will be working on this and she will review it before it goes to technical writing. My timeline is to have it completed by March 25. This should give writer and writer enough time to play with it. If not, let me know, and I can try to bump up the timeline."

So you see that it looks like our task will again be that of glorified copy editor and desktop publisher. The other writer and I have come to realize that our role is not as it should be and we are not happy. In fact we don't think we should even be in this department, and that we belong more in Research and Development. There are many other documentation projects that need to be done in other parts of the company. There are only two writers so the support people end up writing their own work. It appears like an endless loop.

After this long-winded introduction, I ask you - how would you approach this situation so as to:

a) define your role the way it ought to be (i.e. actually writing material, not editing poor writing)
b) counter the argument of "you don't have a teaching background" (the obvious counter being "you don't have a writing background")
c) shift yourself out of "education" and more generally into "documentation" or "publications" (perhaps within R&D).
d) not offend anyone (Our manager is really very good but we just think she doesn't understand what we (can) do and so can't support us. Plus she is going on maternity leave in the end of April and do not yet know who we will report to. It is possible one of the trainers will become interim "manager". You can understand the implications of this, I'm sure).

I appreciate any and all opinions/suggestions/advice.

Thanking you in advance.


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