RE: solo writer--how do you keep up, etc?

Subject: RE: solo writer--how do you keep up, etc?
From: George Mena <George -dot- Mena -at- esstech -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 9 Jul 2003 10:22:36 -0700

Sean Brierley asks an excellent question in techwr-l: How does a Lone Writer
keep up with what's happening?

One resource that's rather beneficial is the STC Lone Writers SIG list
serve. There, you'll find a lot of Lone Writer types who have been one-man
departments before, and a lot more who are new to technical writing and who
are starting their careers as Lone Writers. I'm surprised nobody's
specifically mentioned that list until now. Some who have already responded
offered some sound advice:

* Hands-on learning.
* Going through tutorials.
* Subscribing to e-mail lists.
* Investing in your own technical library of both print and online
* Subscribing to Intercom.

Perhaps surprisingly, however, I've found that more than a few Lone Writers
are usually new to the field and have next to no idea as to how they should
go about establishing a working workflow in order to discharge their
responsibilities effectively. I've found this to be especially true with
respect to documentation systems management and documentation control

The concepts in question include the following:

* How to establish and maintain a permanent record of all documentation
generated by the Lone Writer.
* How to establish and maintain a technical library of the relevant
technologies (including, but not limited to, standards and specifications)
so that the library can be accessed by everyone in the company who needs to
find that information for whatever reason.
* How to establish and maintain an internal documentation database
(including printing spec, Alpha and Beta review, and work form templates)
dedicated to ensuring the publication process is repeatable, standardized,
and stable, as long advocated by no less than JoAnn Hackos herself in her
landmark book, "Managing Your Documentation Process."
* How to establish and maintain effective lines of communication and support
between the Lone Writer and the documentation control department, so that
everyone's efforts in maintaining the internal and external technical
documentation can be coordinated.

For better or worse, I've not seen any academic certification or four-year
degree program embrace the essentials of managing the documentation process.
Most programs I've seen tend to focus exclusively on the technical
expository end of technical writing. While knowing how to write well is
important, regardless of whether or not one is a technical writer, the
reality remains that the documentation database one creates must be managed
effectively. And for those who are in their first-ever Lone Writer
situations, I can't imagine anything more challenging to a newbie tech
writer than trying to learn how to handle the administrative end of being a
one-man department.

Indeed, in that light, trying to keep up can easily fall into the bottom of
any writer's priority list. In my opinion, that's not where it belongs. But,
often, that's where the effort in looking after one's professional
development takes an undesired direction.

Thank you for your time,

George Mena (who's on his fourth tour of duty as a one-man technical
publications department, including his second tour with his current


Create professional Help systems that feature interactive tutorials and
demos with all new RoboHelp Studio. More at

Mercer University's online MS Program in Technical Communication Management:
Preparing leaders of tomorrow's technical communication organizations today.
See or write George Hayhoe at hayhoe_g -at- mercer -dot- edu -dot-

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