Re: Wanted: Dumb Tech-Writer Stories

Subject: Re: Wanted: Dumb Tech-Writer Stories
From: "Sella Rush" <sellar -at- apptechsys -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2000 15:34:36 -0800

My dumb experience:

Very early in my career (of course--I'm perfect now), I took my first job
writing developer documentation. I simply did not have the technical
expertise to handle the subject matter, but I hadn't figured that out yet.
Also, I didn't have a very clear understanding of the audience.

In my first month I took a rough paper done by one of the programmers and
totally reorganized it (usually my particular strength), simplified syntax,
etc., things to make it more readable and get the message across more
clearly. But because I didn't understand the technology, my new
organization didn't make any sense. As I mainlined massive amounts of
technical material and got a better sense of the audience, I revised my
organization.

Imagine my chagrin when it turned out that the organization I ended up with
was exactly the same as before I'd fiddled with it!

On a not-all-that-funny note: this was such a traumatic lesson for me that
it took me almost two years before I felt comfortable doing more than line
editing developer-written papers.

BTW--

> To be honest, I for one am wary of the original offer. I've seen hundreds
of
> technical writers, and I could contribute juicy stories about people who
were
> dumb, serenely incompetent, utterly ineffective, information manglers,
> insufferable, or even frightening. (I could do the same for other
professions
> too, mind you.) But to what end? The last person who collected
> dumb-technical-writer stories from this list was Scott Adams, and he used
the
> material to create Tina the Brittle Technical Writer.

There's a difference between raw material and a work of art. Raw material
has little intrinsic value; it's only when someone takes it and produces
something unique and desirable (funny, profound, beautiful, whatever) that
it becomes valuable. Usually the artist (writer, painter, photographer,
etc.) needs raw material, and it is the individual's choice to contribute or
not.

Scott Adams may have gathered raw material from this list, but does that
mean that the people who provided that raw material have any claim on Tina
other than to brag about their role? Which one of us came up with the idea
of Dilbert, or anything close?

I also write fiction and, because I am who I am, research is a huge part of
the process. I've interviewed many different people, including a bank
security executive, a customs officer, programmers, a ferry worker,
engineers, people from Austin, a DEA agent, lawyers, a member of Seattle's
bomb squad, and a guy who was once the target of an America's Most Wanted
episode (drug dealer). They all knew I was gathering data for a novel, and
they provided that data based on their own level of comfort. But it
certainly wasn't a case of me trying to scam them out of their knowledge and
experience, of taking something that had value to them as it stood.

If I was gathering that data in order to harm or take advantage of the
people who provided it to me, or to use it in a substantially different way
than I'd represented to them, then I would be doing something unethical.

Sella Rush
mailto:sellar -at- apptechsys -dot- com
Applied Technical Systems (ATS)
Silverdale, Washington
Developers of the CCM Database





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