Re: Tips on how to talk to SMEs

Subject: Re: Tips on how to talk to SMEs
From: "William Sherman" <bsherman77 -at- embarqmail -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 13 Jul 2011 23:51:57 -0400

I'm another who doesn't like this use of SME all the time and "tips on how to talk to SMEs" that pop up on various forums and websites.

First, I go back long enough that the tech writer WAS the expert. The TW picked up the drawings, read the schematics, researched the product, read the code, and so on and learned it on his own. He would consult the engineer or the programmer on some items, but often few, and for several reasons.

First, it is your job to learn the item you are writing about. Are you a reporter or a technical writer? That word "technical" in the title isn't there for looks.

Second, the engineer or programmer may not be on that program anymore, hence no dollars in his budget to spend time with you. Even if he does fudge the timecard, does he still remember the project?

Third, the engineer or programmer is often one small cog in the machine. Now there are projects where one engineer handles the entire project or one programmer codes the entire application, but that is often for something small. So his view frequently is a lot narrower than you think. In some places, I have seen "system engineers" who are really "subsystem engineers" because their expertise was only one subsystem of the entire project. Frequently, they are one subsystem of the subsystem.

Fourth, if the product is actually in production, or has already been sold in an earlier version, the technician is frequently more of an expert on it than the engineer. He has to make it run, fix it when it is broken, and send his changes so an engineer can get credit when he "redesigns" the faulty parts (that he previously designed but glosses over that fact) to make Rev. 2.0.

Fifth, I am annoyed at my profession being turned into a "reporter". Think about a reporter. He knows nothing about a subject, and basically takes what someone else knows and pretends to somehow understand it well enough to pass off to others. I'm not here to interview anyone, I am here to learn this product inside out and create a document that shows real knowledge of the product and not just regurgitated mumbo jumbo that many of today's writers have no way to validate.




I also find it annoying that the technical writing profession is being dumbed down to being "reporters" who "interview" the experts to produce a document. Once the reason a technical writer was in demand was he had technical knowledge needed to produce the documentation. Usually it was from coming through the ranks, having been in the military and taking the military training schools, and then supplementing it with tech schools or simply hard knocks on the assembly lines and production facilities.

That is why the idea of a technical writing degree baffles the heck out of me. What are they teaching you? How to assemble/disassemble an F-15 or an F-16? How to build a UHF radio? How to write and read Pascal, Fortran, C, or PERL? How to troubleshoot a Caterpillar diesel? How to operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair a Motorola two-way radio? How to build a Mark 48 torpedo? How to assemble and operate a Mercury inboard engine?

No, the idea is to teach you to interview someone who does know that stuff. Why would I pay two people when I can simply hire the one who know it? No wonder most companies don't want to hire technical writers.

Basically, the industry is turning technical writers into glorified secretaries and the pay is reflecting it. I can't count the number of jobs I've seen for technical writers that fall into the $40,000 range and lower, when real TECHNICAL writers should and can command $80,000 or more.


Bringing brownies to the engineers just proves how much lower you are on the ladder than they are.

Even a good office assistant will get miffed if the boss expects her to get the coffee for him.




Rant OFF.




----- Original Message ----- From: "Craig Cardimon" <craig -dot- cardimon -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Sent: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 8:19 AM
Subject: Tips on how to talk to SMEs


These suggestions might help:

http://morespecifically.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/play-nice-with-an-sme/

--
Craig Cardimon
"The Duct Tape Writer"
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References:
Tips on how to talk to SMEs: From: Craig Cardimon

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