Re: Structure vs Substance?

Subject: Re: Structure vs Substance?
From: "Tim Altom" <taltom -at- simplywritten -dot- com>
To: <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>, "TechDoc List" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 12 Jun 2000 09:10:16 -0500

I suppose that, being one of the participants mentioned here, I should
respond. But I think we're circling around again.

What I hear in Andrew's basic argument is that tech comm is a living entity,
like a kitten that has to be given growth room. I suspect that a lot of our
colleagues share this viewpoint.

But here (and not because we're a consulting firm, Andrew), our emphasis is
on Level 3 thinking patterns, not on Level 1 or 2. If these terms aren't
familiar, read Hackos' "Managing Documentation Projects". In essence, Level
1 and 2 departments or companies don't have much process in them, because
they're young and small. When companies reach a certain size, processes
become necessary simply because of the maturation process. At that point,
most companies undergo a large and painful shift to become more
process-driven. That's when most of the "hip-shootin'" people leave.

It's this Level 3 market that we serve. This is for two reasons. First, we
find that when we put several people on a job, we make money if we have
strong processes, and none if we don't. Second, we also find that good
processes (well-designed, not imposed) live on after we're gone, and the
tech doc department is more respected and effective.

Many tech writers love Level 1 and 2 environments, but don't do well in
Level 3, because now there are standards imposed across the board. Many
writers get itchy then, because they're used to being solo acts, able to
redesign at whim. For them, startups and small companies are probably best.
It's in the Level 3 companies that you find a willingness to adopt style
guides, XML, and single source. These turn a tech doc department into more
of an engineering area than a design shop. This can be a radical mind-morph
for many writers, who aren't accustomed to thinking in these terms. The
tendency then is to blame "the standards" for all their woes. The creeping
black tar of dreaded standardization seems like an insidious plot designed
to drown out the cries of the talented. But there is just as much need for
creativity in designing and updating standards as there is in any other
endeavor. It's just directed differently.

In short, I think Andrew is a confirmed Level 1 guy and can't for the life
of him understand those of us who work comfortably and happily in Level 3.
I've been in Level 1 more than once, and both enjoyed it and despaired of
it. Now I help companies cross into Level 3 by helping them design effective
standards and processes for tech doc. That's what Clustar is all about, and
that's why we're helping companies with transitions to XML and FrameMaker,
both tools designed for single sourcing. There will always be a lot of room
for the Andrews of the world, but probably not in the places I work.

Tim Altom
Simply Written, Inc.
Featuring FrameMaker and the Clustar(TM) System
"Better communication is a service to mankind."
Check our Web site for the upcoming Clustar class info

Re: Structure vs Substance?: From: Andrew Plato

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