Re: How are technical writers perceived?

Subject: Re: How are technical writers perceived?
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 18 Mar 2002 11:14:12 -0800

Bonnie Granat (bgranat -at- editors-writers -dot- info) wrote:

It seems to me that some have contended that having technical knowledge about the current product is not enough. Instead, they seem to be saying,you must be almost as expert as the SMEs before you even start the job.It's that idea that I think is flawed.

This is where I'm not in agreement. While I don't hold the position described above, my view is closer to it than it is to Bonnie's.
True, expecting a writer coming into a job to be an expert is unrealistic. However, it certainly saves time, so naturally companies keep asking for it (although I'd be curious about how often they actually manage to find such writers - not often, I'd guess in many cases).

More importantly, while I recognize that writers often have to learn on the job, and often have to settle for less than perfect knowledge because of deadlines, I still hold that SME-level expertise should be the goal. My reason is simple: if you don't know the subject thoroughly, how can you write about it thoroughly? With partial knowledge, you may write docs that are, to a greater or less degree, adequate. But you are highly unlikely to write outstanding docs.

All I know is that I prefer to aim for outstanding whenever possible. I don't claim to have ever reached that level, but aiming for it keeps my interest in the work strong - and, I suspect, makes my work better than if I aimed lower. For me (and I don't speak for anybody else, and I'm certainly judging anyone else), settling for enough knowledge to do the job feels like settling for mediocrity. I'm realistic enough to know that I sometimes have to, but I'm also idealistic enough to prefer not to.

Bruce Byfield 604.421.7177 bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com

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