More than a writer (LONG)

Subject: More than a writer (LONG)
From: Steven Brown <stevenabrown -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Wed, 15 Feb 2006 12:43:07 -0800 (PST)

This morning a friend shared this interesting story. I
immediately thought about a response that I posted to
this group yesterday arguing that we should be more
than "writers."

Gene recently bought a desk from a major furniture
manufacturer and its delivery was prompt. Upon
unpacking it, he found that the handles on the desk
drawers were installed on the inside of the drawers!

Thinking the desk defective, he immediately called
Customer Service to return it. A week later he has a
new desk...but its handle are installed the same way!

This time, though, Gene takes a moment to read the
instructions. Buried deep in text on page three he
finds an explanation. It seems the handles are
installed this way so that the desk will fit inside
the box it's delivered in. The customer is expected to
move them.

What can we technical writers learn from Gene's

We cannot count on our customers to read the great
documentation we write. Gene followed his intuition in
unpacking his new desk. He didn't think he needed help
with this seemingly simple task. Our challenge is to
anticipate his needs.

The person who prepared the instructions (who, in
fairness, may or may not have been a technical writer)
did his job. He was a "writer," in that he composed a
simple, straigtforward note to explain why the drawer
handles were installed as they are. It was accurate,
grammatically correct, and probably adhered to their
style guide.

A good technical writer -- one who does more than
simply "write," someone who adds value to his employer
-- would have said, "No, this traditional instruction
pamphlet is inadequate. What we need is a sticker on
the drawer that explains why the handles are installed
on the inside." The good writer might also have
initiated a discussion with the company's customer
service department to let them know that customers
might call to return their "defective" product; he
might have provided some guidelines about how to
handle those calls so that the company doesn't incur
the costs of:

- Handling the call.
- Shipping the desk back to the warehouse.
- Handling the desk when it arrives.
- Repackaging returned desks.
- Customer dissatisfaction in general.

A good technical writer might also have suggested that
the handles should not be installed on the inside of
the drawer. Better to package them in a bag and tape
the bag inside the drawer.

I keep coming back to my mantra, that we're more than
"writers," or at least we should be. Adding value,
reducing costs, and increasing sales will get you more
attention than changing "enter" to "type" or ensuring
that we never use contractions. As someone suggested
to me offline, we're all more than our titles suggest.

Steven Brown

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