Re: anyone else in the same boat?

Subject: Re: anyone else in the same boat?
From: Christine -dot- Anameier -at- seagate -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 27 Dec 2000 13:36:35 -0600

John Posada wrote:
> I responded to this a few minutes ago with a rather flip comment,
> and while I hold to that comment, I'd like to make a more serious
> response.
Oh, NOW you tell me, now that I've fired back. <g>

> My client, who pays my bill, says "I want you to write your help
> content in an instructional, narrative style" (Let me tell you the
> story of a man named Jeb...) and I believe in the procedural style
> (step 1, step 2, step 3, results). However, my client says that for
> their users who they have been working with for several years, they
> believe and pervceive that their way is better. (Oh, and BTW...they
> want all the content wording in Hunter Green and the headings in Lime
> Green to match the company color.

So far I'm with you. Narrative bad, procedural good. I could live with the
hunter green content, but for the headings I'd probably present a few
alternatives--say, hunter green type with a thin lime-green "racing stripe"
below it or somesuch thing that might be ugly but at least wouldn't impair
readability (maybe a lime-green icon signifying whether each section is a
procedure, a tip, an overview, etc - perhaps a color in the background
could tone down the visual chaos; maybe they'd settle for a subtly modified
lime green--go into Photoshop and nudge some sliders).

> Fast forward six months. I hand in my work, in the procedural style
> that I prefer, in black text.

Whoa! For six months you've been deliberately ignoring the client's wishes?
(And nobody noticed? Geez, they need a review process.) That's not what I'd
do. Rewind six months. I would try to ascertain whether their method is
based on actual user feedback; if their actual users really do like this
format, it would be harder for me to argue with it (although this
particular example, the man named Jeb, is really off the wall). If they
can't make a solid case and it appears they really AREN'T listening to the
users, I have a couple of options:
(1) Try to convince them of the merits of my approach, with concrete
evidence if possible (usability studies, perhaps).
(2) Try to create a modified approach that incorporates some of the less
harmful features of their approach. Perhaps they'd be receptive to a
procedure-based approach interspersed with brief scenarios (in inset boxes,
or set apart visually in some other way) about what Jeb did. Maybe whatever
the client likes about the Jeb stories can be extracted and applied to a
more effective documentation strategy.
(3) Take a chunk of work (a chapter, or a few help topics) and do two
separate versions. Show the client both and try to get them to see the
advantages of the procedural approach. (One could, I suppose, be sneaky and
make the "bad" approach less visually appealing -- subtly mess up leading
and kerning, do something slightly off with margins or fonts, print it on
the cheapest copier paper on a printer running low on toner... but that
would be getting Machiavellian.)
(4) If all else fails, quit... although it would be prudent to hold my nose
and finish the project first. In this scenario, the only difference between
us would be that you consider it a successful contract and I consider it an
exercise in frustration.

> Am I an insult to the tech writing field?
No, you're pragmatic.

(views expressed here are my own, etc.)

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