flashpoint of the week: editors and writers egos

Subject: flashpoint of the week: editors and writers egos
From: "Wright, Lynne" <lwright -at- positron911 -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 15 Mar 2004 13:02:37 -0500


Here's my dilemma:

When I started working here as a tech writer 5 years ago, I'd had about 12
years experience as a writer and editor, but only one lousy night course in
technical writing. However, I did tons of research on the basic principles
of tech writing (read textbooks, did on-line tutorials, studied manuals from
reputable industry leaders) to bring my skills up to scratch.

A year ago, I was promoted to in-house editor, which I saw as a chance to
reverse years of sub-standard documentation... our marketing, QA, and
training departments had all given up trying to get Tech Communications to
do the job right.

The problem had always been that Tech Comm. was more or less ruled by one
"senior" writer who considered herself the in-house authority simply because
she's been here the longest... even though she really doesn't have a firm
grasp of basic writing principles (grammar, punctuation) and is not terribly
good at thinking analytically or logically, etc. As far as I know, she
started out as a secretary, then lucked into a job as a writer when the tech
writing department was created... but to my knowledge she has never taken
any writing courses or studied on her own to learn the basics of writing,
let alone to study tech writing. She has also been the mentor for our other
main writer, whose first language is French, and whose only prior 'writing'
credentials included one or two years writing papers for English lit
courses.

These two have evolved many bad habits that they cling to stubbornly, such
as being overly wordy; using awkward sentence constructions full of "for
which"s, "therefore"s, etc; being overly repetitious and/or redundant in
language usage (ie. Use the Configurator to configure configurations," or
"The Name text box enables you to enter a name"), writing 10-word titles,
etc.

I want to compel them to write more clearly and concisely, but any attempts
to "dictate" how they write prompt complaints to my boss (not to my face)
that i'm being "too mean" or "too controlling" ... even though i'm 100% sure
that all the suggestions i make are based on legitimate tech writing and/or
English language usage guidelines.

I'm also supposed to be in charge of maintaining our style guide, but I'm
"not allowed" to impose conventions without getting group consensus... even
though when we meet to discuss issues, I'm the only one who bothers to
research what the norm appears to be and think through what might be best
for us...everyone else just goes on their "feelings" as to whether something
"sounds right" or not. They don't seem to trust or value my opinions much,
even though by now I would think it would be fairly obvious that I know what
I'm talking about, and if i don't, I research the issue rigorously... that
i'm not just pulling rules out of my butt to make their lives difficult.
Naturally, they also vehemently resist change, even when its obviuosly for
the better.

So now i'm trying to be less fastidious and let stuff that i consider
semi-bad writing to go through, so they won't feel so threatened by TOO many
red edits on the page (I was even told to stop using red ink, because it was
"too violent and upsetting")... but its causing me great pain. Not only is
it really difficult to try to make editorial decisions when I have to take
each writer's "personal style" into account; but ultimately, its not doing
our users (or our company's reputation) any service allowing
semi-amateurish, unclear stuff to be printed.

We have a new boss that seems to trust my judgement, but who has also been
urging me to be kinda gentle on people, since he is trying to reverse a
history of conflict and power struggles amongst the writers.

So what's the best strategy? Do I play nice for awhile, and try to build
trust and respect, while giving time for my new boss to realize how lost my
naysayers are, so that he will eventually back me in pushing for higher
standards? Or do I stick to my principles and edit according to normal
standards, and if they can't handle it, too bad?

Lynne Wright
Technical Communications
Positron Inc.
5101 Buchan St. H4P 2R9
(514) 345-2200
fax: 345-2272



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