Re: Looking for advice -- up to the job? (positive spin)

Subject: Re: Looking for advice -- up to the job? (positive spin)
From: "Martin Page" <mpage -at- csl -dot- co -dot- uk>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 4 Jul 2002 09:58:17 +0100

("Anonymous" has been having a bad time and wants advice on what to do


There's possibly a positive spin on your recent techwriting debacle (all In
My Humble Opinion):

> Now I'm devastated. My present firm tells me I don't have
> sufficient depth of understanding of its software

They might be wrong. It's not unknown for techies to have strange ideas
about what techwriters should understand and what should go in the user
manuals. If - and only if - your documents are for the ordinary, non
technical user, then, IMHO, you need a good knowledge of what the software
does in its business context (which may, however, be very, very technical,
e.g. an accounting package), rather than a programmer-level intimacy with
what's under the hood. (Warning: Some techwriters - funnily enough, those
with programming skills - strongly disagree. They believe that you should be
able to document a GUI from the source code. Avoid organisations that share
this view.)

>I'm still not good enough with master docs (and
> other black magic) in MS Word. (Some programmers cope better than I
> do). I have an up-hill struggle with each new tool and the learning
> curve is not levelling off very much.

Surely you jest? Master documents are broken and have been so for as long as
I've been using Word. If the programmers can get them to work, it's probably
because they (1) have massive computers, and (2) aren't doing much with
them, or (3) are following a set of rules for using them (see the archives,
but even with the rules, #2 probably applies). For big documents, you should
be using FrameMaker or equiv. With big docs, in my experience, Word tends to
fall over and take everything with it.

>I have an up-hill struggle with each new tool and the learning
> curve is not levelling off very much.

Tools aren't rocket science. And you don't need to work wonders with them.
If you can use styles, graphics, indexes and xrefs, that should be enough
for most gigs. Anything else, you learn from the help then forget it once
you're done. If something doesn't work for you, check - you
may well find that other people have the same experience and that the
feature is buggy.

So, suggestions, still "In My Humble Opinion": if you're good at explaining
things, and want to have another bash at techwriting, then go for it.
-choose your job with care - e.g. documenting front ends of one sort or
another sounds good, and make sure the software serves a non-technical
market, e.g. not accounting.
-if you haven't already, read a couple of books on techwriting, incl esp.
Sun's "Read Me First! A Style Guide... etc" (see archives) This will save
you from re-inventing the wheel.
-work out what you need Word and other tools to do and find out how to do it
(see the archives for resources, also the "For Dummies" and "Idiots" books
tend to be good.)

Also, in general, at the risk of teaching you to vacuum-extract liquid
nutrition from avian ova:
-don't let yourself be overwhelmed - break your problems up into small,
manageable tasks (but your probably knew that)
-do some more research
-do all this while you still have access to the internet and the software
through your job

Commiserations and best wishes


"If the pen is mightier, how come the sword is more satisfying?"

(My views and mine alone etc.)

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