Advice on starting out; dealing with employers

Subject: Advice on starting out; dealing with employers
From: Joan Wamiti <jwamiti -at- breakeveninc -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 15 Apr 2011 11:31:07 -0400

Hey All,

I'm new here, both to the list and to technical writing. I've been lurking
for a few weeks, browsing the archives and reading the daily digests with
interest.

Some background: I've just been hired by a tiny software/consulting firm as
a Business Analyst. However, since I have a little experience with writing,
they'd also like me to be responsible for their documentation needs - mainly
a help guide/wiki for the software that our clients use. There's also talk
of a blog...

My undergrad was a combination of Math and Economics, and my writing
experience comes from writing personal projects and working as a copy-editor
for the on-campus newspaper. Technical/scientific writing is something that
I've been interested in for a long time, and I've done some investigation
into courses/online resources.

Questions:
1. What are some good basic resources for someone just starting out? I was
thinking about a dictionary and a technical style guide (I'm used to using a
journalism one), but I feel like I need more information specific to writing
user guides. I'm ok on the language front, but I'm at a loss when it comes
to file formats, document layout etc. Right now I'm writing everything up
in Word 2010, then emailing it to my boss, who inserts screenshots and
converts it to pdf. In reading some of these threads, it's pretty clear
that I have a lot to learn, but I don't want to overwhelm myself with
unnecessary information.

2. What should I keep in mind when dealing with my employer? My bosses
have technical backgrounds and only have the haziest idea of what their
requirements are - they want a wiki, client-specific help guides, and a
blog. They have no idea of what a style guide is or why anyone would need
one. I feel like I come off sounding fussy and pedantic about getting
documentation right, but I want to do a really good job with it, even if I'm
just a beginner. I've clarified who my primary audience is (the end-user)
and the blog isn't a priority right now.

3. Credit/attribution - how do I address this with my employer? I've
already written up some user documentation for clients. I'd like to be able
to use some of what I've done for a portfolio, but I'm dealing with a lot of
proprietary information, some of which I can't just scrub/block out
(describing processes etc.). I've only started working for this company and
I'm hesitant to bring this up right away, but I don't want this to become a
problem later on. I know I could save all my work for a portfolio and use
it anyway, but I'd rather have permission.

4. How do I deal with previous documentation? There's already some
existing documentation that I'm expected to review (and most probably
revise). Some of it is inconsistent, jargon-filled and unclear, and there's
a lot of Power Point presentation style to it (lots of unneeded bullet
points and sentence fragments). I don't lie when the previous writer asks
me about it - I do my best to be tactful with questions/comments since the
person who wrote it is my boss, but he doesn't seem to think that the
inconsistencies/lack of clarity matter. What's a good way of showing him
the importance of documentation?

These are the main issues I've been thinking about. I'd appreciate it if
you could let me know if I'm on the right track, or if there's anything else
I should think about.

Oh, and this is supposed to comprise a fraction of my normal duties.

Joan
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