Re: New TECHWR-L Poll Question

Subject: Re: New TECHWR-L Poll Question
From: Tom Murrell <trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 2 Jan 2001 07:03:17 -0800 (PST)

--- Deborah Ray <debray -at- raycomm -dot- com> wrote:
> What is the minimum level of product knowledge
> a tech writer needs to write end-user documentation?
> * Basic knowledge of functionality and interface
> * Option 1 (above) plus industry knowledge
> * Advanced knowledge of the product (power user)
> * Option 3 (above) plus industry knowledge
> * Engineer-level knowledge of the product
> * Option 5 (above) plus industry knowledge
> * Other/none of the above

I chose the last option on the list, "Other/none of the above" not
because I don't believe it is a writer's duty to acquire the
appropriate level of product knowledge but because I wasn't sure where
to put that acquisition of knowledge.

I've interviewed several places over the years where they wanted level
1 to level 3 knowledge from anyone they would hire. In other words,
they wanted you to know the product and the industry before you
started. That eliminated me in many prospective employers' eyes before
we got very far.

The places where I have worked, including my current position, I didn't
have even Level 1 when I started. But I take it as my job to be able to
learn the product to the level needed for the documentation as part of
the job. That's what I think I do. If I need to write to the power
user, then I feel I need to learn it to that level. But if I'm writing
to a lower level user, especially at first, then I won't learn it at a
higher level as quickly as I will to the more entry-level person.

Where needed, I have been able to achieve an Engineer-level
understanding, but not overnight, and only once have I started a job
with any level of knowledge or understanding of the products,
processes, or users before I started the job.

I don't knock employers who want someone who can "hit the ground
running," if they can get it. Sometimes there just isn't time to let
the writer come up to speed. I have felt that some employers could have
benefited from a good TW who could learn their products reasonably
quickly and might be a better overall TW than the candidate they
selected, but I understood what they were about.

Tom Murrell
Lead Technical Writer
Alliance Data Systems
Columbus, Ohio
mailto:trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com
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