RE: Writers job description/definition

Subject: RE: Writers job description/definition
From: "Jim Barrow" <vrfour -at- verizon -dot- net>
To: "'TECHWR-L'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2008 09:32:07 -0800

Sylvia Braunstein said:
>I have been working in this company for the past three years. OK, it is
true that I >have only recently started to receive a list of deltas between
versions and it is still >not complete. So, I do have to do a comparison
which is very long and very tedious. >So yes, this needs to be fixed.

I think that's called job security.

>My colleague (a freelancer) believes that he should get all the material
from the >engineers.

Material for what? User guides? Use cases?

>He works without a system

Hmmm...sort of like describing the taste of an apple without having actually
eaten an apple.

>(OK, lately there was a lot of pressure), focusses on what he understands
(the >warnings for example, which is obviously trivial compared to the rest)
and edits the >English but does not bother trying to make any sense because
"this is the job of the
>engineers" and doing that would be doing "QA", which is not our job.

That would make for a very interesting user guide: "Warning! Don't stuff that I don't think it's my job to tell you about."

>So, this colleague, who has many years of experience, focusses on editing
what he >gets and making things pretty.

Well, he just set Technical Writing back 10 years.

>Of course, since he is very focused on detail, it takes him a long time.
However, if I >tell him that he has to think in terms of user and that the
engineers are not supposed >to understand how to do that, he argues with me
and tells me that it is not our job >and that his wife is not suppsed to
know how to install this.

I don't want to call him a dummy, so let's go with myopic.

>The unfortunate part

There's more?

>is that he does not know either and he does not even try to understand.

Are you the only one that notices this?

>So, he has many years of experience working as a sole technical writer and
doing >pretty much everything he wants the way he wants (and gets paid a lot
of money for >it). However, even the editing and the formatting takes him
ages and in the end the >work becomes my job. It is really hard for me to
commit to a deadline because I >can't truly rely on him and most of the time
the work actually falls back on me.

I retract what I wrote above - he's a lazy, myopic dummy.

>So, is this how it goes? Am I totally wrong and he is right? We get all the
material >from the engineers, we don't try to make sense of it and work with
a system, and we >assume that the engineers know how to introduce the
material to users. So what we >do is edit and format. Write nice little
macros, at times redraw a block diagram and >that's it, we get a huge

I'll assume that your questions were not rhetorical and answer by saying no,
this is not how it goes. To put it simply, he should be writing his
material so that his wife *could* walk in off of the street and understand
the system.

>Am I expecting too much from him? Am I defining the job the wrong way? I
mean, I >remember in my previous company that my boss was also trying to
make sense of >things and work with a system (hardware or software), even if
we had to release >things very fast.

I can't believe that someone with a so much experience could have such an
incorrect approach to tech writing. I suppose it's possible that no one
corrected him in all his years of working solo.

>OK, so now I have to come to my boss and introduce a job descriptoin of
what >technical writers are expected to do.
>Anybody can help? I am not trying to get a specific list for my company but
a list that >shows the responsibilities of the technical writer, especially
a senior technical writer >(that reports to me) and that earns a fortune.

Well, if I were you, I would simply go to and browse the tech
writer job descriptions. See what's most common and adapt it to what you're
looking for.

- Jim


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Writers job description/definition: From: SB

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