What is a reasonable training period for newbie writers?

Subject: What is a reasonable training period for newbie writers?
From: Krista Van Laan <KVanlaan -at- verisign -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 9 Nov 2000 18:06:24 -0800

The discussion about "atmospheric benefits" and newly trained tech writers
running off to greener pastures after a year reminds me of something I've
been wanting to discuss:

What is a reasonable amount of time in which to expect a newcomer to the
field to be productive? 3 months? 6 months? A year? Someone mentioned that
after
six months on the job, the newbie with the "atmospheric benefits" and lots
of training
would be able to go get a job as an experienced tech writer
with a better salary. I would have thought that, too, but I believe my
expectations aren't realistic for what happens in real life.

Let's say your entry-level writer is a career-changer
with a college degree and business experience in the software field and
experience writing, but has never held a job as a technical writer.
Given time to learn about the product and take some training classes and
read the documents, what would you expect them to be able to do at
various stages during the first year?

If I have a newcomer to tech writing, they start out reading and
proofreading
manuals, and learning and using the product. After they've done that for a
couple
of weeks (depending on when and if a training class was available their
first week
or two), they get one document that needs updating. They're expected to
become
familiar with the contents of that manual. I monitor the amount of work that
goes
into the update and check on how they're doing with it. I then start adding
related
items -- release notes, other manuals for the same product, etc.
I don't expect someone to write a manual from scratch for a year unless they

really show they're ready for it, but I do expect them to do their own
writing
before that year. During the first two or three months, they're going to
have to ask the developers to give them stuff pretty much ready to drop in.
But after
a while, they should be able to write it themselves after talking to the
developers,
or using the newest release of the product, or reading specifications if any
exist.
We work at a very fast pace, and I know not everyone is cut out for that,
but I do
have some level of expectation based on what the others produce.

My assumption is that after six months they should be doing most of the
writing
themselves (and know enough about the product to be able to handle this
fairly
well), juggling several documents, and be able to say no ahead of time if
they can't meet the deadlines for all the documents. Pretty much everything
the other
writers do with the exception of writing a new document for a new product
that doesn't
have any specifications of any sort.

What's your experience? How and when do you decide someone is just not
keeping pace,
or do you assume everyone has their own timetable and it will all work out
in the end?

Krista

================================================
Krista Van Laan
Documentation Manager
VeriSign, Inc. http://www.verisign.com
1350 Charleston Road Mountain View, CA 94043
tel: (650) 429-5158 fax: (650) 961-7300

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