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> from yr previous posts, I could have mistakenly gathered that you value
> "writers" above "editors" or "project coordinators." OTOH, I don't remember
> you diving into any discussion of what value "editors" or "project
> coordinators" provide to a documentation project. So while I'm assuming
> that you'd rather hire a good "writer" over a good "project coordinator"
> or good "editor," I can't prove that assumption.
> So, various questions are: do you value one skill above
> others, circumstance notwithstanding? Do you see value in every type of role,
> depending on the circumstances and client needs? In yr opinion, is one role
> inherently superior to another?
Dan asked a really good question here and I wanted to open this up to the
entire group. I suspect this message will anger a lot of people who feel their
well-ordered vision of the writing universe is threatened from my opinions.
There are writers.
There are editors.
And they are different beasts.
Writers have two basic skills:
1) Communication skills (which includes editing skills)
2) Content Generation Skills
In other words, a writer must know HOW to communicate as well as WHAT and WHY
to communicate. (Where doesn't hurt either.)
Editors have one basic skill:
1) Communication skills.
Editors do not generate content, they rearrange and reformat existing content.
Editors must have a good eye for how to express things properly - but they do
not need an extensive understanding of the content. Editors are great at
enforcing standards - like a style guide.
Most people working today as "technical writers" are not writers. They are
merely editors. They reformat content to meet standards, styles, or demands
from SMEs. They don't really ever generate content. When they do it is usually
just "connective tissue" to hold a document together. That places them
marginally in the writer column, but not by much.
About 10% to 20% of the "technical writers" out there are actual writers. They
have both solid communication skills and the ability to generate content. Most
writers can effectively write about numerous topics because they possess core
technical knowledge that helps them reason their way through new topics.
Ever heard the old cliche, "good writers are also good editors." That cliche
alludes to this dichotomy with the word "also".
Now, are editors lower forms of life to be enslaved. No. But let's not confuse
the two. I don't consider myself an editor. Applying styles, enforcing
standards, and developing really killer documentation plans does not make you a
Naturally, I think "writers" work harder and are generally better humans. But
that's because I paint myself as one. Not because its really true. I admit my
However, I do know one thing: Building a technical publications empire with
perfect standards and an internationally recognized methodology DOES NOT make
you an accomplished writer. I makes you a good employee, maybe a good STC
Accomplished writers have stacks of original documents that they pecked out
with their own fingers on the shelf behind them. How they generated those
docs...incidental. I am sure those writers produced some real winners and some
real stinkers. Whatever the case, they didn't get there because they just
followed the rules that some other person wrote in another book.
The world needs editors. Editing is a very important part of all written work.
Good writers always need good editors to help them. The two are dependent on
Which is more important? Well, editors are basically lost without writers. So I
am afraid I have to say writers take priority. Editors have to have something
to edit, and that is what a writer produces.
However, any decent sized company will have a mixture of editors and writers.
Personally, I believe one skilled editor can adequately serve three or four
writers. I think it is best to weigh a company with more writers than editors.
Many companies do not practice this and it shows in their documents: lifeless,
dull manuals written by committee. There is no vision, tone, or direction to
the document - which can only come from a skilled writer.
Now, I am sure a lot of people who edit, are also quite capable writers. But,
how often do you hear great writers on Jay Leno say, "Gosh Jay, if it wasn't
for this outstanding documentation plan and comprehensive style guide, I never
would have written my book about whatever."
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