RE: Secretary Proofing Manuals?

Subject: RE: Secretary Proofing Manuals?
From: Jean Weber <jean -at- wrevenge -dot- com -dot- au>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2001 13:34:28 +1000

Paul Nagai wrote:

Executive assistants, secretaries, etc. are rarely people to
look down upon for any reason. A) They are often extremely competent at
whatever they do ... they'll get themselves out of doing things at which
they're not competent and B) They have amazing ex officio access to the

And some of them develop into technical editors or writers *with* the appropriate title.

I am Exhibit A, folks. After several years of being an executive secretary in California (well back in the dark ages before interactive computers, so everything was typed, and retyped) with a Master of Science degree in a recession, my boss (a scientific researcher and administrator) discovered I improved his writing immensely by editing while I typed, so he encouraged me, although he was unable to get my job upgraded to a status that reflected what I actually did.

When I moved to Australia in 1974, I was able to get a job as a "scientific assistant" to the Director (top person) of a research institute. At the time the job was more "personal assistant" or "executive secretary" than "scientific" but as the workload grew I was able to take on more of an official scientific editorial role and eventually someone else was hired to take on the secretarial part of the job. My next job was a recognised editorial one, and from there I eventually moved into editing computer materials (in 1981), was reinvented as a "technical writer" and never looked back.

Along the way it was interesting (but hardly surprising) how others' attitudes changed as my job title changed. As a "secretary" I was looked down upon by some of the scientists (except by my boss, who knew he had an underpaid gem of a resource), but as a "scientific editor" I was treated more as a peer - a junior peer, as I didn't have a PhD, but definitely someone with a recognised area of expertise. But always some people looked beyond the title to find out what skills I was bringing to a project, and we worked with that.

So in one sense titles do matter, because far too many people judge you on your title (or your appearance), but if we don't get caught in an ego-trap about titles and status ("I am insulted to have a person of lesser status reviewing of my work, even if s/he is good at it") then we can get the full benefit from others' contribution.

If the proofreader's workload is causing delays in processing the manuals, that's really no different from the SME's workload causing delays in technical reviews; it has nothing to do with the proofreader's title or status. Address any *real* problems (such as delays) without reference to the person's position. Who knows, she might become a valued member of the team and have some of her other duties offloaded onto someone else... just as happened at that crucial stage in my career.

Regards, Jean
Jean Hollis Weber
mailto:jean -at- wrevenge -dot- com -dot- au
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