RE: Are you a writer?

Subject: RE: Are you a writer?
From: "Farwell, Peter" <peter -dot- farwell -at- encorp -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 27 Feb 2002 12:22:12 -0700

Andrew wrote:

> You can't have your cake and paycheck too. You cannot expect
> the "ownership" of
> documentation if you refuse to own the content. A few people
> who responded to
> me privately seem to think they can offload all content
> issues to an SME while
> they just focus on English. Their justification is that they
> were hired to be a
> communicator, not an SME.

At my last company, I was a Field Service Engineer responsible for just
about everything technical (except writing code) that went into implementing
and supporting our products. At a critical juncture, we hired a freelance
technical writer to produce a users manual for our new windows software
which was already behind schedule. He struggled to understand the underlying
technology and details of our product. He had meetings with the SME's
(programmers and me) but ultimately was pulled off by our President because
he produced a nice outline doc with tons of screen shots in FrameMaker but
the content was lacking. In his defense, this was a fast moving and ever
changing product. The point is, he could not complete it because he did not
possess enough intimate product knowledge. My opinion at the time was that
he was lazy and unmotivated but I also know that it was a chaotic
environment. Out of necessity and with my bosses blessing, I actually
changed my profession at that point within my company to technical writer.
We bought a copy of Frame, I learned it using the tutorials and cleaned up
his work and made a manual that represented the software and its full

At my current company, I am not as intimate with the technology and that
makes me uncomfortable. I have spent many hours gaining knowledge of our
software and hardware but it is a steep learning curve. It would be easy to
'coast' as Bruce mentioned in an earlier post but I could not face the SME's
I depend on knowing that I had not done everything I could to understand our

I think of the level at which I need to know our products as having a
certain level of intimacy with all the pieces that have to come together to
make things work. Each of the programmers and application engineers are
'specialists' whereas I'm a 'general practitioner'. I don't have to write
the code or even validate it but I do need to know what it is supposed to
do. As long as I can take material and concepts from my SME's and add value
in the form of writing clear instructions, accurate and informative
marketing pieces, or restructuring complex technical material for clearer
understanding, I have no problem calling myself a Technical Writer.

Peter Farwell

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