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Subject:Training a new writer? From:"Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA> To:"TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com> Date:Tue, 11 Dec 2001 13:58:29 -0500
Karen Gloor reports: <<I've been "given" a person, part-time, to be on my
team as a technical writer. Catch is, she has never had any training
whatsoever in the field (though she does at least know what Word is and
does!)... She knows a lot about the products, but not how to actually put
that knowledge into legible sentences... I have never taken someone who
isn't [a writer] and taught them from scratch. Any ideas on how to do
One excellent way to start is to spend half an hour with her, a couple times
a day, going through existing documentation and explaining why you (or the
other writer) wrote things in a specific style and how (if at all) you'd
change the style for the current documentation she's working on. Once she's
up to speed, and able to work more or less independently, you can replace
these sessions with shorter, more focused sessions on specific issues and
you can let her drop in whenever she has a question (or at specified times
of day if you don't like being interrupted frequently and unpredictably).
Sometimes it's easiest to learn by imitation, and doubly easy if someone
explains just what it is that you're imitating and why. If you have her
working within a specific framework (e.g., a list of tasks or topics), then
focus on existing writing that resembles what you want her to create. Tell
her to simply copy the existing material's style and contents, though
(obviously) modified to fit the work she's actually doing. Explain some of
the important frequently recurring things (e.g., how to cite menu names or
dialog box buttons) so that she can do them right the first time and you
won't have to spend hours correcting them thereafter.
You'll have to spend a fair bit of time initially teaching her, to the point
that it's going to seem like you're spending more time teaching than you're
saving by having her present to do work, but eventually, she'll stop needing
such direct hand-holding and you'll start seeing some of the benefits from
having an extra set of hands.
--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
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