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For future reference, there's an anonymous forwarding feature you
should use for such inquiries. The only reason I opened your message
was because I was interested to see how it made it through my spam
filter: both your pseudonym and the subject should have blackholed the
message. I suspect you won't be that lucky with many other
techwhirlers. I've changed the subject in the hope that you'll get a
bit more sympathy if people actually read your message. <g>
<<I've had my share of handling/coordinating with technical writers.
Having been assigned as a lead writer a couple of times, I usually have
to face the issue that I must outsource other projects to writers in a
particular country, because they're cheaper... But what do you do if
the work they produce is horribly written? The format is a mess and the
usage of English is terrible, it's like a 7-year old was explaining the
What to do depends on your passive-aggressive quotient, your level of
personal ethics, and whether you still have any investment in your
work. The simplest solution is to write a memo, then say nothing, let
the product fail horribly, and try to duck all blame. "Hey, I didn't
choose them, and I told you it wouldn't work [produce your memo that
proves this]. If you're willing to listen to me, I'll tell you how to
do it right."
While you're looking for your new job (which will happen about 5
minutes after you try this trick <g>), ponder a more ethical and
Start by demonstrating the results of the current process to people who
have the chops to make a difference. Show it to the sales and marketing
managers, for instance, not just your own manager. Point out that in
your professional opinion, the results are simply unacceptable, and
offer them several alternatives, each supported by a simple but clear
"business case" (advantages, disadvantages, costs in time and dollars):
hire native speakers of the language locally, hire a better class of
offshore worker (they certainly exist), or develop a procedure for
bringing the foreign writers up to speed.
The amount of time investment required increases proportionally as you
move from the first to the last option. But since you're not
responsible for resourcing this job, all you can do is let the manager
who is responsible make an informed decision.
<<English is not my first language too, but I grew up in an
English-speaking household, so I think "in English", if that makes any
sense. I hardly speak in my local dialect.>>
It makes perfect sense, and the quality of your writing demonstrates
that it's not the location or origins of the writer that is important,
but rather their skill as a writer. Of course, it can be next to
impossible to make this case to Dilbertian managers, in which case, I'd
point out that there are plenty of _good_ jobs out there where our
profession is respected. If you can't live with the quality compromises
you're being asked to make, leave. (Or if you freelance, as I do, fire
the client.) Your reputation is your only stock in trade, and if you
produce crappy work, you won't be working much longer.
<<I have tried editing their work, and the ones I've worked with refuse
to accept any constructive means to improve their writing. Everytime
this happens, I request to discontinue acquiring their services. It's a
whole big mess since you step on a lot of toes.>>
If you're nominally the lead writer, insist on getting the authority to
make your decisions stick, and having hire or fire authority for these
contractors. If they won't give this to you, ask your boss to make
these decisions and enforce them. And if they won't, give them 2 weeks
notice and start looking for new work if you haven't already done so.
And at your next job interview, your first question should be "do you
offshore work and, if so, will I have authority to hire and fire and
impose quality control?" If you don't get a satisfactory answer,
politely thank them for their time and leave the interview.
If the problem is as common as you say, there's undoubtedly a huge
market for "last-minute saviors"--people like you who show up 2 weeks
before the deadline, use the current documentation only as a reference,
and rewrite the entire doc set from scratch. Best of all, you can
charge more than if you had to write it yourself. You might want to
consider freelancing and offering this service to your former
employers, who clearly need it.
<<If I move to another company, it starts all over again. This is a
reality in our industry, I know that.>>
Not inevitably. The documentation produced by the biggies, like
Microsoft and Adobe, is deficient in many ways--which is why the people
who publish "For Dummies" books, and possibly even some of their
authors. are getting rich. But at least the writing is reasonably good.
Plus, I make a decent living helping ESL writers write better English.
So it's a question of finding the right niche.
<<Sometimes I wish I could just say "Please stick to programming!
You're all good at coding, but most of you are horrible writers!"
Forgive me for having to say that, but I really encountered no decent
writer from there. And they are getting all the jobs.>>
Actually, programming is no different from writing: both require
practitioners to use a language skillfully. Except that programming is
easier, because the rules are clearer, the skills are very similar in
many ways. But just as some people simply can't master a specific other
language (I'm proficient at French, lousy at Mandarin), some people
speak C++ better than English, or vice versa.
People are people everywhere in the world. So I'll bet you that the
programming will prove to be no better than the writing: which is to
say (pace Sturgeon's law), 90% of the people doing the work will be at
best competent (many are far worse) and only 10% ever really excel.
Okay, it's Friday, and after a rough week of editing shockingly sub-par
science, my misanthropy is showing. <g>