RE: flashpoint of the week: editors and writers egos

Subject: RE: flashpoint of the week: editors and writers egos
From: "Jones, Donna" <DJones -at- zebra -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 15 Mar 2004 14:54:28 -0600

<snip> (I was even told to stop using red ink, because it was "too violent
and upsetting")

Lynne (not Lisa!),

A friend of mine who has been a magazine writer for 25+ years once told me
that she's not "married to" her prose, which is why editorial comments don't
bother her. As a writer, you need to be mature enough to take constructive
comments from an editor and realize that this person is simply doing his/her
part to make your work the best that it can be. It's a team effort to make
your company, its documentation, and--to a smaller extent--the individual
writers look good. Do the writers or management want their company's work to
be perceived as inferior because the documentation is poorly written or
riddled with small errors? Every writer can stand to have their work edited.
I've handed over what I considered to be "perfect" work to our editor and
been surprised at the things she found (now where did that mistake come

If the color red intimidates your writers, use red ink solely for grammar
errors and conformity issues that *must* be made (back yourself up with a
grammar book, a style guide, or other reference material on these changes).
Then use blue, green, or some other color for style issues, general
suggestions, questions, or pointers to the writer. At least then it
shouldn't look as if something bled to death on the pages. I used this
method in a previous job as a technical editor, and it seemed to work. If
your writers get tired of seeing red, they can read through what they write
and correct it before they give it to you (how's that for a scary thought?).
Or have them run their writing through MS Word's grammar checker so they can
see for themselves what suggestions it makes. Maybe you can make a game out
of it to see if they can get their work back from you with fewer red marks
each time (kind of like you would with a child...). And above all, keep a
sense of humor about it all. Even if something makes it out the door with
errors, the world won't end. As long as your name isn't directly on the
documents for all the world to laugh at, do your best to make things better,
then let go. Unfortunately, you can't force people to be better writers.
Some people are content with mediocrity.

I doubt this would be possible with the people you described, but could you
do a grammatical edit to the actual files and make the changes without
marking them up on paper? Then you could save markups for issues that truly
needed the writers' consideration. That's also a method that I used as
technical editor. When the writers were finished writing and the
documentation had passed review, they turned over all of the files to the
editorial staff for editing and production (creating PDFs, HTML, and such).
The writers didn't care if the editors corrected a punctuation or grammar
error on the fly, but they wanted to know if we were going to make changes
that might affect what was being said. If I thought that something was
unclear or if I wanted to make a change that might alter the meaning of a
sentence, I went to the writers with my interpretation of what I thought the
sentence meant. If I was way off, they knew they had to rephrase something.
You approach them with, "Here's what I think this sentence means. Is this
correct? Would it be okay if I change it?" Sometimes it's all in how you
approach them in whether or not they go for what you say or kick and scream
trying to fight you.

What about having the writers submit something to an STC competition and
seeing what kinds of comments they get back? Maybe hearing comments from the
judges will embarrass them into wanting to turn out higher-quality work.

Good luck!

Donna L. Jones
Technical Writer II
Zebra Technologies Corp.
Vernon Hills, IL

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