Re: Have to know Programming to be able to write about it? -- IT HELPS

Subject: Re: Have to know Programming to be able to write about it? -- IT HELPS
From: Steven Brown <stevenabrown -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2003 14:18:13 -0800 (PST)

Hello all,

What most of these debates about "writing skills"
versus "subject matter expertise" come down to is
whether writers with subject matter expertise are more
desirable than those without. All things being equal,
they are.

Case in point. I used to work in customer service for
a brokerage firm; had all the NASD licenses to trade
mutual funds, stocks, bonds, etc. While with this
company, I made the switch to their documentation
department, where I wrote the policy and procedure
manuals that I had been using for the prior three
years. I was writing some kick a** documentation, my
friends! I was a much stronger contributor to our team
than a colleague who'd joined the company from a
high-tech firm. While she was spending time learning
about long straddles, I was writing about them.

What makes the writer-SME so valuable is his ability
to add value, to know almost intuitively what the
reader needs without having to ask someone else, to be
able to research an issue without having his hand held
through the entire exercise. Consider how an average
writer would document an address change feature on a
brokerage Web site. Easy enough, right? You spend time
reading the spec, you look at some prototypes, you run
through the process in a QA environment, you write a
nicely crafted procedure for online help. But in the
end, the writer-SME knows something you don't...that
customers making an address change may also need to
move their money from one state-specific money market
to another one. Or that the change might have been
prompted by a job change, and that means you could
deliver information about rolling over money from a
401(k) plan to an IRA. And guess what, that means more
money stays with or comes into your employer. That's
one example of the always-elusive quantification of
the value that we writers (could) add.

True, if you're not a SME you can certainly spend time
interviewing them, but when's the last time that a SME
told you literally everything he know about a
particular topic? Or came to your desk and said, "Hey,
there's this great little tip I forgot to tell you

In the end, these debates are not a zero-sum game. A
subject matter expert who can write well, design
information, create and maintain an online help
application, publish manuals, etc. will ALWAYS be more
valuable than someone who can do all of the above but
has little domain knowledge. The "dream" of every
hiring manager should be to find a writer-SME, but the
real world puts most of us somewhere in between, and
so we scramble to learn new concepts and technologies
and subsequently produce documentation that is never
quite as good as it could be.

Steven Brown
Technical Writer

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Have to know Programming to be able to write about it? -- NO: From: Beth Agnew

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