Tech Writers taking minutes

Subject: Tech Writers taking minutes
From: "Lorrie Staples" <lestapatl -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 28 Jun 2002 20:18:06 +0000

I am wondering how many other technical writers have been required to take
minutes in meetings (as their main function) and what was the level of
detail that you were expected to produce in your minutes document? At this
corporation where I'm on contract part-time, they expect technical writers
to attend project meetings, with their only value to produce minutes of the

Now, you may say "so?" to that, but this has very unusual additional
requirements to me. In this environment, taking minutes means recording
everything (he said/she replied) except the breathing! I have never been
required to do this before in the 10+ years that I've worked in
documentation, but apparently there are other technical writers who have
done it for them in the recent past, so they've made that their de facto
standard. (I also think that there have been a lot of nasty political
battles during the years from some other file documentation I've seen.)

First, some background -
I am on a part-time contract & happy to have something going to pay the
bills right now (laid off over a year ago from a Sr. Technical Writing
position that I had for 4 years), so I'm battling the guilt of not being
happy with my situation. But, I must say that this is the first I've
encountered this type of corporate environment where the technical writers
are treated this way . . . as glorified court recorders who should be
grateful to have the honor.

Now, about the situation -

When I was interviewed & accepted the position, taking minutes was only
mentioned as one of my job requirements. I wasn't told that it was a major
part of my responsibility for the project. I was simply told that they
needed part-time technical writing support for this large project that would
last for 6 months. Well, I said ok that I have taken minutes before, but
not in a very long time (I was an admin asst many years ago right out of
college). I own a dictaphone, which I use when I'm documenting
requirements, or interviewing SME's for documentation, etc., so I thought
I'd be fine.

The first time I took minutes for them (something IMO is a waste of a
technical writer's skills), they tossed me to the wolves & didn't warn me
ahead of time what was expected. I produced my standard minutes, which I
thought were really overly detailed, because I wanted to do a good job & had
recorded them with the dictaphone. I also had found some copies of minutes
from several years back in some files, so I tried to use that as my standard
format. To my surprise, they were written all over by one of the Project
Managers (there are 2 for this project - why? I don't know), with a comment
from the other Project Manager that it was "ok" work "for the first time"
(huh?). By the time I was finished with all the edits incorporated, it was
a 45-minute meeting which produced 8 pages of minutes(!).

In the couple of weeks between meetings where I had to take minutes, my boss
(not one of the PM's) gave me an example of someone else's minutes from a 2
hour meeting that were 13 pages long!! All filled with blow-by-blow action
of everything that transpired during the meeting.

So, in an attempt to please (I need the $$! <grin>), the second time, I
spent 5 hours transcribing (which is how I'd describe it) the first 45
minutes of a 2 hour meeting, and was ready to kill someone by the time I
dragged my fried brain to that point. To get through it, with detail like
I'd seen, meant constant rewinding & repeating because it was a detailed
JAD, they used acronyms & such, and all talked at once many times during the

I went to the one Project Manager and said that this was a bit much. The
reaction was a blank stare, as though they couldn't understand why I had a
problem with this. So, I gave them a copy of my raw "transcript" to prove
my point that I'd already spent 5 hours to get through 45 minutes of tape.
I also asked the PM why anyone bothers to attend meetings around there
because there's no need to go. They can read the entire "Action News"
account of the meeting at their leisure, rather than interrupting their busy
schedule to attend a meeting.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel, though. Yesterday the two
Project Managers talked and decided that they'd accept a less-detailed
format. Still, I am feeling like *I'm* the one with the problem. They were
nice about it, but very reserved. Then again, that is the treatment I've
received from everyone since I got here in the middle of May. Nice, but
keep you at a distance. So, it might not be anything.

So, my question at this point is, have any other technical writers who have
encountered this? Is this normal & I'm the one with an attitude problem or
something? (I guess I'm opening myself up to flaming from some of the more
insensitive, arrogant people on here with that - yes, I'm usually a lurker.)
But I'm to the point where I need to know for my own curiosity, 1) if it
is normal to expect to be assigned the minute-taking duties for meetings, 2)
whether incredibly detailed minutes are the norm of the job, and 3) if so,
some samples if you have any you can share (please send to me off-list).

I'm grateful to have a technical writing contract job because I was out of
work a year (went to Oracle DBA school & also started college again). In
addition to my college classes, I've been working (& still am) another
part-time job that is retail ($7/hour) because there just aren't tech
writing jobs here in Atlanta right now, unless you are very, very
specialized in things and have many years experience doing whatever they
require, like dinosaur hair splitting or something.

Have a great day! (IN spite of it all or TO spite it all! <grin>)

Lorrie S.
Atlanta, GA

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