RE: Geez, can I take a break...

Subject: RE: Geez, can I take a break...
From: "Wilcox, Rose (ZB5646)" <Rose -dot- Wilcox -at- pinnaclewest -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2002 13:57:30 -0700

Andrew Plato wrote:
If you make a big deal out of this, you'll get hurt. Just change her
sentences back and move along. Don't tell her, don't waste your time. She
spend X number of years learning to write poorly, you won't change her
overnight. >>

And then, Pat Glass diplomatically replied:
I appreciate your sarcasm, Andrew, but I assumed the conversation would
proceed politely, and I wouldn't tell her that she was wrong (I agree with
not trying to change her). [snip] However, since I'm
sitting home out of work (my department was eliminated), it may be that
your approach is best.

Then, later she adds:
Also, Andrew, I'm a "southern belle," and this colors my relationships,
even work relationships--and not necessarily in the best way. When I am
editing other people's work, I try to present everything in a positive,
"working together" kind of light. It has bitten me in the bu** on
occasion, with people seeing me as wishy-washy when I'm just trying to be
diplomatic. Has anyone else encountered this problem?>>

I also have encountered the problem. As a younger woman, I was viewed as
being "too passive". Nowadays, I don't seem to have that problem as much!
Time has taught me to speak my mind; however, the skill of tempering honesty
with diplomacy is ever in demand.

The truth is, I have been hired to be a writer. If I don't present my
skills and talents honestly, then no one knows what I have contributed. For
the most part, I find just by mentioning "passive voice vs. active voice" I
have lost "the audience" in comprehension. For the most part, this can be a
good thing. Suddenly, they realize that I am in possession of knowledge
they lack. This same mystique is what gets the technical folks the big
bucks. :-)

However, like Andrew said, some folks are touchy and bridle at criticism.
In addition, each contract I work is fraught with past history, and
sometimes I don't know where the bodies are buried. Sometimes I must tread
lightly. However, if I tread *too* lightly, I risk losing my value to my

The problem with just changing the writing without saying anything is that
in some organizations that won't fly. You may have a situation where a
non-writing boss feels final responsibility for the project and needs to
know *why* you are changing things. If you "sneak" an edit in that
situation, it could be seen as dishonest.

My approach to handling editing problems must be tailored to fit the
audience, dovetailing to the personalities and culture of the organization.

I always have these choices:
1) Simply change the final copy and don't mention it to anyone
2) Approach the person whose edits I am changing and mention why
3) Leave the bad edits as is and bite the bullet

Unfortunately, I am constitutionally unable to do the third choice. The
first choice would actually be my plan of choice if I were sure that I had
the last say in it, unless I was close friends with the writer or in a
mentoring role.

I do have some managers and developers who want to learn how to write
better. In those cases, I give them a critique with a positive slant on
what they do well, along with suggestions on writing flaws they tend to
make. In that case, I treat them with respect.

When I am taking the second choice, I have then have several options for how
I will handle the situation. For example:

- the "heavy written edit with copious explanations in writing" officious
style, used when in a formal organization, where there isn't as much
personal expression, and where the individual is impressed by "book
- the "sweet and kind" minimize-the-pain style for bristly egotists who
don't want to learn to write but think they already do.
- the "talking it over in person with a brief non-detailed overview" for the
professional "who knows I can write, just needs to know what I am doing and
doesn't really need to know a lot of the reasons why" type.

And, in fact, there are about as many ways to handle it as there are
companies and people.

In all cases, I keep in mind these principles:
1) I bring value to any project I am on. I keep current with the thinking
about style, language, tools, etc. I act as an advocate of the user or
2) I recognize the values and goals of my clients and co-workers, which may
not be the same as mine.

Finally, in the case of being over-ridden and forced to write or publish
subquality work for any reason, I note my protests, generally in writing,
but in a non-blaming way. I cannot live with myself otherwise. In most
cases, I have gone on to find other work, but in this economy, may very well
be found still toiling in the soiled field.


Have fun!

Rose A. Wilcox
Project Office / Power Trading
Communication Specialist / Technical Writer
Rose -dot- Wilcox -at- PinnacleWest -dot- com

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