RE: What Would You Do with a Writer Who Can't Write?

Subject: RE: What Would You Do with a Writer Who Can't Write?
From: "Sharon Burton-Hardin" <sharon -at- anthrobytes -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2003 19:08:12 -0700

My opinion? Document what you can, do your job and shut up. Here is why:

We had your client once - I don't even know where you are working, but it
does not matter, we worked for these people. The project manager used to
tell me that tech writing was not brain surgery, anyone could do it. In a
way I agree but tech writing is a little harder than randomly hitting keys
in Word or making useless information pretty.

They hired Motel Boy as a salaried writer, whose previous job was, you
guessed it, assistant managing a motel. Apparently this qualified him for
the non-brain surgery technical writing. I suspect he wrote your example. He
could not write a simple declarative sentence if you held a gun to his head
and provided all the words.

My writers were turning out a topic rate similar to yours. For every
horrible, rambling, worthless topic Motel Boy wrote, my writers were writing
5 topics each. To the point, clear, lucid explanations, on top of the
technology, topics that were of value to the users.

The project manager came by one day, late in the project and told my writers
she was concerned. It seemed their topics were awful short as compared to
Motel Boy. My writers explained about concise, structured writing, to the
point, numbered steps, etc. Project manager listened and said "Maybe you
could look at what he is doing and do more like that. He just has more words
per topic than you do and I think that is important."

When the project was over, we offered to stay on and take over the entire
docs group - there were 2 other writers in the group but not on that
project. Or they could hire me full time to be the docs manager, since they
didn't have one, and I could get that group to work (I would fire 2 of the 3
and replace them with actual writers) save them huge amounts of money in the
docs area, AND still deliver on time, accurate docs for their expensive
products. (If you like this product, send $200,000 to... The docs were that
bad and the development cycle was not much better.)

Needless to say, we did not make the other writers or the project manager
happy and management did not take my offer up. As far as I know, Motel Boy
is still there. At least one writer left, in large part because she could
not stand the level of "quality" Motel Boy was creating and he was
impervious to being taught. Anything. Their product line, writing, anything.

They continue along happily with one writer who doesn't care and Motel Boy.
And they like it that way.

If you point out your Motel Boy's ineptitude, you will be the bad guy. Just
do your work, make sure your deadlines and milestones are met and shut up.
They like it this way.


Sharon Burton-Hardin
CEO, Anthrobytes Consulting

-----Original Message-----
From: bounce-techwr-l-71429 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
[mailto:bounce-techwr-l-71429 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com]On Behalf Of Doug
Sent: Monday, April 28, 2003 1:41 PM
Subject: What Would You Do with a Writer Who Can't Write?

I'm working with a writer who doesn't seem to know how to write. Copy and
technical edits are taking more time than I can spare. Despite agreeing to
the project style sheet, he consistently ignores it. For some of his work,
it is less time for me to rewrite the entire topic than to edit and return
to him to put in changes (most of which he ignores). I mean, here is a
sample of a procedure he wrote:

To rightclick in a window:
1. Choose Setup>Setup Preferences>Main. The Preferences dialog box will
appear at this point. Input your preference per the Setup Instructions.

2. Product clears the window and will display a Setup Preferences screen
when you are done inputting your preferences.
3. Place your mouse or rather the pointer in any gray area of your window
except the area about an inch from the left margin and click with your right
mouse button to have a menu appear.

It goes on like that.

He can't write a procedure, he can't use consistent language. He doesn't
know the product we're working on and he doesn't know much beyond basic MS
Word. I'm contracting and he was recently hired full-time.

I'm not sure how or if I should go to management--is it a contractor's
"place" to bring things like this up? It is frustrating to do my work and
some of his. During the last joing project, I wrote 184 topics to his 24.
The job market is tight--and I don't want to "cause a situation" as they say
around here.

I don't want to go behind his back, and I don't want to show up in a
manager's office with a stack of evidence. I should mention that there is
no documentation manager; we're managed by an overtasked development manager
who thinks technical writers just "pretty up" things. (His words.)

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What Would You Do with a Writer Who Can't Write?: From: Doug Duplessis

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