Bitterness toward technical writers

Subject: Bitterness toward technical writers
From: "Elna Tymes" <etymes -at- lts -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 05 Jan 2001 12:15:58 -0800

Andrew Plato wrote:

> There is a LOT of bitterness out there toward tech writers. Many engineers,
> CTOs, and upper managers think writers are a waste of money. And honestly, a
> lot of writers ARE a waste of money because they don't write anything. They
> sit around fussing and obsessing over fonts and gerunds demanding processes
> nobody wants and procedures nobody will follow.


> We just started working with a technology firm in Silicon Valley. The CTO
> recently left a very large company. <more snip> I am paraphrasing, but he
> told me numerous stories of writers he hired who argued all day over fonts,
> build detailed plans they never followed, complained again and again that they
> couldn't do their jobs. Basically, he was sick and tired of people calling
> themselves writers when they didn't want to write anything.

We, too, have run into the resentment Andrew describes toward technical
writers. What surprises me is the number of marginally qualified people who are
trying to pass themselves off these days as "senior writers," who obviously
haven't done much more than the doc plan or template 'design' Andrew described.

So there are some bad apples out there, and they're giving the rest of us a bad
name. What most of us on this list need to remember is that there are also very
good writers out there, laboring away in less than ideal situations and trying
desperately to bring in quality docs on time and within budget. But we also
need to be aware that experience with one bad apple can sour an engineer's
opinion of ALL technical writers. Sure it's not fair, but it happens.

Most of us disagree with the somewhat exaggerated, even pompous, positions
Andrew Plato takes about [name your topic], but usually there's a grain of truth
in what he says. And there's some truth in this latest bon mot. However I
suspect what's going on is not quite as the CTO described, but more like the
*perception* that standards and templates and guidelines is all that tech
writers do. And that's something we writers can do something about. We need to
be careful of the impression that engineers get about who we're supporting - and
we're usually supporting engineering, not some independent group in charge of
the more ethereal "document quality." The fact that many engineering
organizations give only lip service to top-down organization of a product - or
its supporting docs - is something we may bemoan, but is simply a fact of life
in many companies. The fact that iteratives reviews *invariably* add cost to a
document may be a well-known truth to writers, but once you warn the engineers
about the consequences of too many reviews, you have to be willing to negotiate
and possibly compromise in order to get engineering's support. The late hours
and extra work is simply the price of being part of the development process.

Which, incidentally, is why I generally prefer being a contractor who works on
an hourly basis: if engineering wants the product next week AND wants three
reviews between now and then, I'll simply smile all the way to the bank. I can
sleep later.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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