Re: anyone else in the same boat?

Subject: Re: anyone else in the same boat?
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 09:39:47 -0800 (PST)

I wholly disagree with some of the advice from some people on TECHWR-l. I
think your best course of action is:

1. Find the lead engineers. Schedule meetings with them. Talk with them about
the product. Get to know the products and what they expect of you.

2. Learn the products and technologies you will be documenting. Surf the net
for information about your competitors. Get appropriate books on the technical
topics. For example, if your product uses Java, get a basic Java book. This
gives you a common language with the engineers, something considerably more
valuable than a style guide.

3. Read all the existing documents.

4. Start with a small, simple project first. Make sure everybody knows what
your responsibility is at the company. "I am the person writing all the docs."

5. Find out who will be reviewing your docs. Ask them how they prefer to edit
documents. Conform to their wishes.

6. Be humble, be respectful, and accept criticism. Do not fall in love with
your words. Do not throw a tantrum when the engineers reject your first work.
You have to please them as much as you have to please the readers.

7. Produce results quickly. Prove yourself capable.


1. DO NOT Waste time with documentation plans, project plans, style guides, and
other one-off work. This is a tremendous waste of time and energy. You need
to prove your value to the rest of the team right away. Spending time writing
documentation plans that NOBODY will read just makes you look like a
work-shirking twit. Engineers do not care about your style guide. And your
style guide does little to prove your writing capabilities. A lone writer at a
company does not need style guides and project plans. Do it all in your head.

2. DO NOT show up loaded for a battle. You must be accommodating to the other
team members. You are here to help them, not the other way around. Find a way
to work inside existing patterns first. Showing up and demanding everybody
start conforming to some arbitrary documentation process is a great way to get
yourself ignored and shoved in a corner (and possibly fired).

3. DO NOT confuse the idealistic theories of books (like Ms. Hackos' book) with
the harsh realities of everyday writing. The world is not a well-ordered
place. People resist change and order unless there is a clean path to success.
If you are new and finding your footing the worst thing in the world you can do
is start demanding some foreign process get implemented. Produce results FIRST
then you can build an empire.

You do not get authority just because you show up and have a title. Authority
is earned after you prove your capability. Capability is not measure in how
well you can conform to your own standard. That is like saying, you're great
at being you.

Tech writers are judged by the outside world on their ability to *produce*
insightful, useful, and technically accurate documents. Nobody in the outside
world cares one tiny iota what style guide you used or what internationally
recognized process you implemented. Therefore, don't waste your time on these
things. Find a way to make the documents GOOD first. Then hone the process

Andrew Plato

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