Re: Quality of source material from Development

Subject: Re: Quality of source material from Development
From: Michael Oboryshko <obie1121 -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2001 13:08:18 -0800 (PST)

Andrew wrote:
> it should be mandatory for a technical writer to be an
> expert-level user/tester of the products/technologies
> he/she is documenting.

I'd insist on one tiny modification: it should be mandatory to
*become* an expert user/tester.

Managers who only recruit writers who are expert in technology
XYZ are skipping a whole lot of good writers, some of whom could
probably do a better job than the XYZ expert you actually hired.

Suppose you wanted to hire a biographer. Would you look for
someone who was already an expert on your life? Or would you
look for someone with a good track record developing biographies
of other people? My mom is an expert on my life, but she might
not be the best biographer. Also, there are things I'm not going
to tell her ;)

I'd hire the good biographer. Then I'd hand over every document
I had about my life. Then I'd introduce the biographer to
everybody I know. Then I'd give a long, long interview. Then I'd
make myself available for ad-hoc follow-up questions. At least,
that's what I'd do if I wanted an honest and accurate biography.

I'd understand the biographer was gathering info to become
expert on his subject. I wouldn't play head games with him,
trying to make him feel inadequate because he wasn't already an

A lot of tech writing time is (rightly) spent just figuring
stuff out, which is more formally known as "information
development." By "figuring stuff out" I mean
implementation-specific stuff. I don't mean wasting the client's
time learning basic technology.

So it doesn't matter whether developers give you documents or
not. If they do, great. It's more grist for the mill.

Mike O.

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