Re. Tech. writing situation (new marketing guy)?

Subject: Re. Tech. writing situation (new marketing guy)?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "'Emily Cotlier'" <Emily_Cotlier -at- cardlink -dot- co -dot- nz>
Date: Mon, 17 Jul 2000 08:47:12 -0400

Emily Cotlier is <<... dealing with a very annoying tech writing
situation... CEO has asked New Marketing Guy (NMG) to put together an
extensive technical document to be distributed as a manual to our program
users>>

Sounds like the CEO doesn't understand the role of marketing. Marketing
doesn't usually do technical documentation in the form of a user guide; they
do it in the form of a sales job. (Here are the features we're offering. Buy
our product! Our writers will tell you how to actually use it.) However,
pointing this out might not be the best political decision you've ever made.
What's your relationship like with the CEO? Can you sit down with him and
the NMG and figure out a better division of labor? That is, don't tell the
CEO he's a goof; figure out how to meet his goal (teaching the NMG) within a
reasonable length of time.

<<The goal of this document is to allow our program users and any related
companies they're working with an idea of how to set up all their related
IT/file exchange requirements. New Marketing Guy asked me, the company's
lone tech writer and his informal business-writing mentor, for help. I
looked over the document requirements and came to the conclusion that New
Marketing Guy didn't have the skills to put it together... he's a smart and
decent guy, but CEO has requested this manual ASAP.>>

It sounds like you're in a bit of a bind. On the one hand, it would be great
to take the time to work with NMG to build a lasting professional friendship
and still get the work (yours and his) done on time. On the other hand, you
probably don't have the time to do this--at least, not easily. The only
obvious compromise seems to be figuring out a way to train him as you go so
that he gets good enough, fast enough, to progressively reduce your daily
dose of training as time goes by. One thing I'd recommend is to send him
home each night with an example of good writing (yours?) that he can study
and imitate in his own work the next day. If he's as smart as you say, he
can learn to identify the style and contents, and begin filling in this
information himself. Another thing would be to teach him how to outline; a
good outline can save days of revision, and provides great structure when
you're floundering and don't know what to do next.

<<We both agree he will ask CEO to reassign it to me with NMG's
collaboration. The CEO said he still wants this guy to manage the project
"as a learning experience." >>

Careful how you make such suggestions; you don't want to be seen as
second-guessing or trying to overrule the boss. One thing that might work
well would be to renegotiate the deadline for delivery of the NMG's
document. (If you don't have one, develop a realistic schedule that includes
your own work load and the amount of training required. And always ask the
question: "OK, that's when you _want_ the docs. When do you really _need_
the docs?" The two answers rarely match, and if you can get the boss to
admit that, you've got a lot more time to play with.) Given that the boss
recognizes that this will be a "learning experience", remind him of this
recognition, hold him to his word, and negotiate a deadline that includes
time for learning and revision. One thing you seem to be doing is feeling
obliged to take on the job for the NMG, which though noble, really won't
teach him anything. Provide direction and support, but make him do the work:
for example, you said you hashed out an outline for him, but he'll learn
more and faster if you ask him pointed questions that help him develop the
outline himself.

<<whatever New Marketing Guy produces in the way of this manual will require
extensive work from me before it's fit to go out to clients>>

It will require that work, but you can make the job much easier on yourself.
If you work with him as he's writing each day's work, and edit that day's
work so he can learn not to make the same mistakes in the next thing he
writes, you'll spend a lot of time with him the first few days. But the last
chapter he turns in will require substantially less revision than the first
chapter, and each day you'll find less to correct. So edit his work each day
(maybe after each chapter he produces!), prioritizing the most important
problems, and teach him what's wrong: don't just correct the problem, but
ask him to identify what's wrong (lead him to the answer if necessary) and
how to fix it. If he can learn, he won't be making those problems by the 7th
day.

<<I'm ticked off because I feel dissed as a technical writer. I feel that
the CEO sees my skills as low-level and interchangeable if he thinks New
Marketing Guy can do my job.>>

It may well be the case that your boss doesn't recognize your value, but
that's common in technical communication. The only solution is ongoing
education of your bosses and clients (e.g., the NMG). Most important of all,
try not to give in to your emotional reaction; it's the surest way to create
bad blood and build resentment on your own part. I still, after 15 years of
editing, have to point out the kinds of mistakes I catch during editing to
remind the boss and my authors why I think I'm better than they are and why
I'm worth keeping on payroll. And yes, it ticks me off, even after 15 years,
but it comes with the territory. Most of them really do know the value I
add, and just need an occasional reminder so they don't start taking me for
granted. You'll have to do much the same thing. If you can do it with the
NMG, and keep doing it, you'll get some really good payback down the road,
because Marketing often takes on a perceived importance to the company far
beyond its real worth, to the point that they dictate development schedules
and product features. Bite your lip and get through this current crisis, and
you'll have a marketing guy who owes you big-time, who trusts your advice,
and who's willing and eager to work with you to set realistic deadlines.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer




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