Re: Technical Writers who write functional specifications

Subject: Re: Technical Writers who write functional specifications
From: "Elna Tymes" <etymes -at- lts -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 23 Jan 2001 13:41:28 -0800

Cathy De Rubeis asked:

> In order for a technical writer to write functional specifications, what
> does she need to know? Is this a sort of promotion or a type of job hybrid
> (tech writer/business analyst)? Or perhaps it depends on the company size
> and/or view of what technical writers do..

Frequently when a technical writer is asked to write functional specifications,
it's the act of desperation by a frustrated engineering manager who has
programmers who think well and code well but can barely write their own names.
<g> What the writer can offer in this case is the ability to take seemingly
disjointed technical material and weave it into a document that can be
understood by others. Such activity also tends to highlight things that are
missing and things that don't or won't work together.

What such a technical writer needs to know is:

1. Who's the person in charge? You may need some extra muscle in order to get
those with the technical info in their heads to somehow impart their wisdom in a
timely manner.

2. What are the milestones in developing such a spec? For instance, will there
be a group meeting to approve the outline? What about reviewing technical
content - will there be reviews, and if so how many and for how long? What's
the delivery date?

3. How detailed is the spec to be? In some cases, the developers want screen
shots to show full functionality. In other cases they simply want to know in
general how things are supposed to work. And there are lots of potential
'finish' points in between.

4. Who are the source people? And are there any? If you aren't going to be
able to talk to the technical folks, where is the source material and what shape
is it in? Btw - a writer who is asked to write a functional spec with no access
to technical folks and little source material is basically being asked to write
fiction -- be prepared to make that clear as an expectation to the folks asking
you to do this.

Is being asked to write a functional spec a kind of promotion? Not exactly, but
surviving the exercise will probably boost your credibility by quite a bit
within the company. Further, in the process you'll likely develop some very
useful relationships with technical folks -- cherish those, because they're
worth more than the usual writer/programmer relationship.

Good luck!

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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