re: Digest: What do you write?

Subject: re: Digest: What do you write?
From: "Nuckols, Kenneth M" <Kenneth -dot- Nuckols -at- mybrighthouse -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2006 07:55:02 -0400

Sarah asked...

Message: 33

Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2006 11:27:18 -0700

From: "Tech Writer" <a -dot- technicalwriter -at- gmail -dot- com>

Subject: What do you write?

To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com


<d3b3ccb40606281127m47ca5bd8gb74a763f5c6c5ee8 -at- mail -dot- gmail -dot- com>

Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1; format=flowed

I have been a tech writer for almost a year, having previously worked as

software engineer in the same company. I love the change, but there is

thing that bothers me about it. I expected to spend most of my time

user manuals and help files, as our software is sorely lacking in user

documentation. I firmly believe that documentation would improve the

quality of our product.

Unfortunately, I am more often assigned to write internal systems

documentation that is either ignored or simply filed away somewhere,

because this is a small enough company where everyone already knows how

perform their job from pre-existing documentation and notes. (The "head

cheese" who assigns these projects to me apparently doesn't see it that

way.) I'm afraid that my developer past is keeping me tied to those

of projects. I really want to build writing experience and to

gain knowledge of many types of documents.

My question to you is this: On average, what percentage of your time to

spend on user documentation versus internal system documentation? Also,

much control do you have on the projects you get to work on?


Whether I write for users or engineers, 90% of the documentation I (and
the rest of the Tech Writing team) create is for an internal audience.
And as Sarah says, sometimes it feels like the documents just go into a
file cabinet somewhere and don't get used that much. However, that is

The industry we're in (and probably the corporate culture at most
companies in most industries, to be honest) fosters the accumulation of
"tribal knowledge." Everything runs along fine in the XYZ department
because "Bob" knows how to do everything and when there's a problem,
someone goes and asks "Bob" to help them fix it. But now our company is
growing and our service offerings are diverse enough that "Bob" may move
from one department to another, or he may take a job with another
company, and he takes his "tribal knowledge" with him. That's why two
years ago someone decided it would be a good idea to hire a Technical
Writer (my boss) and then I came in a year later and now we have another
contract writer that started two months ago who may become an FTE in
time. We're still playing "catchup" to document 25 years of the way
everything works around here in all departments, plus working on new
documentation projects as they come along.

It sounds like Sarah is feeling frustrated because her company is still
small enough and young enough that "tribal knowledge" is sufficient for
everyone to do their job. But as time goes on and the company grows and
people rotate out of one position into another department or new
employees begin working on your systems, they'll be glad there's a
library of documentation to help them figure out how to do their job.
That way they won't spend hours looking for the mythical "Bob" and they
can let him get on with his work while they find the information they
need in the documentation you've created for them.

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