Re: Writers job description/definition

Subject: Re: Writers job description/definition
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: SB <sylvia -dot- braunstein -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2008 16:20:41 -0800

SB wrote:
> 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.
> My colleague (a freelancer) believes that he should get all the material
> from the engineers. He works without a system (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.

Most of my 18 years in the field have been as a temporary writer, and I
want to say that the bad work habits your freelancer has developed are a
rational response to the circumstances I've found myself in too many
times. What I've got to say shouldn't be construed as therapy for your
freelancer. It is more like the reason to start talking to other tech
writers about getting one who can do the work. Anyway...

I'm like your freelancer--I too have developed strong feelings about the
upstream role that the engineers and project managers play in the
documentation process. If I had a dollar for every time I've joined a
project, asked for engineering specifications and the project
documentation, and been told ... well, you know what I've been told. I'm
not feeling sorry for myself, it really is a difficult problem. The
projects that hire temp writers at the end of the project are the
worst--they're too often clueless about the SME time or other
substantive input that I'll need to make their documentation happen in a
few short months. Is your freelancer reacting to this sort of situation?

Anyway #2, in response to the typical paucity of project documentation
available to temp writers, some of us do act like we expect to sneak by
without producing. You've described the strategy pretty well: settle
into bureaucratic mode, do busy work, blame someone else for the lack of
progress (bristle fiercely if necessary), collect empty gin bottles,
await the salvation so richly deserved.

I'm not making apologies or excuses for your freelancer, I'm merely
sharing my sense of what they might think they're doing and why. If I've
recognized the problem (yes, I'm treating this as an answer in search of
a problem, might be wrong), then I think I might be able to motivate the
writer, and you can too, by recognizing and fixing the problem, like this:

"Hey, I talked to the dev manager and they've invited us to their daily
meeting. We'll finally have access to the entire team and we can get
what we need. Remember, 8 AM in the big conference room, be there or be

Or, maybe I didn't recognize the right problem and your freelancer will
just grumble and complain about the early hours. In which case, sorry,
but you need a replacement.

Speaking of the replacement, don't forget to use your current
freelancer's beliefs as a problem-solving scenario when you interview
for the replacement writer. You need to hire a tech writer commando who
knows the technology, can and will talk to the technical staff, and will
dig dig dig to get what's needed.

Tech writers dig it, others need not apply.

Ned Bedinger
doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com

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Writers job description/definition: From: SB

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