RE: SUMMARY: If You Were Gonna Teach...

Subject: RE: SUMMARY: If You Were Gonna Teach...
From: "Grant, Christopher" <CGrant -at- glhec -dot- org>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 8 Mar 2002 15:47:04 -0600

Thanks, Tom, for posing an interesting question and summarizing the results.
I wanted to clarify the PURPOSE of this "writing instruction" for SMEs. Is

A. To improve the quality of materials that SMEs give to technical writers,

B. To improve the quality of materials SMEs generate for their own use, or

Please forgive me if this is already clear - I tried to read over the thread
and was unable to definitively determine this.

If it's B, then I understand and agree with the results in the summary.

But if it's A, then I totally do not understand the results. If the purpose
of the instruction is to improve the material given to technical writers by
SMEs (source material) then.... aren't we basically trying to offload OUR
job responsibilities onto the SMEs?

Why should a SME care about grammar, passive/active voice, punctuation,
acronyms, spelling, and styles (their impact on the clarity of the
information notwithstanding - if the grammar is so bad you can't decipher
it, then yes, they need to learn a little.) These items are the
responsibility of the technical writer, not the SME.

What bothers me most about the summary here is that I don't see on it what
is, IMHO, the single most important thing that SMEs need to know: PROVIDE
COMPLETE AND ACCURATE CONTENT. I really don't care if the source material
is delivered to me on a paper plate and written backwards so I have to hold
it in front of a mirror to read it, as long as the content is accurate and

In my experience, the major problem I have with my SMEs is that the
information they provide is not complete or is not accurate. Yes, it's also
riddled with errors in subject/verb agreement, passive voice, spelling
errors, etc, etc., but those are really irrelevant because as a technical
writer _I'm_ the one writing the final document... it's not like I'm going
to cut and paste the SMEs source material into my manuals.

I'm not trying to start up the "are you a writer" debate again, but
seriously - I don't see anything about accuracy or completeness of content
in the summary, and I'm baffled. As I see it, that's the primary function
of the SME: provide me with information. How it's formatted, written,
packaged and delivered, well, that's my game.

Reading through the thread, I _did_ notice several comments by other
techwhirlers that seemed to echo what I'm saying here, but I don't see their
responses in the summary. For example, Steven Brown said,

"Instead, I'd focus the importance of documenting things completely. Most of
my frustration is working with insufficient information."

Keith Cronin suggested specifying exactly WHAT you expect from the SMEs,
content-wise, and then says,

"This approach focuses on making sure you get the information you need,
rather than on improving the quality of their writing. This way you get the
raw content, and it's up to you to digest, assemble, and WRITE the actual

I find that these two comments seem tremendously more relevant to me. YYMV,
of course.

Again, thanks for asking the question and summarizing the results. I was
just a little perplexed by it, and wondered what you and others thought.

-Chris Grant

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