Re: Tips on how to talk to SMEs

Subject: Re: Tips on how to talk to SMEs
From: Ruth Sessions <ruthsessions03051 -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: William Sherman <bsherman77 -at- embarqmail -dot- com>, "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 14 Jul 2011 10:37:48 -0700 (PDT)

William:

I agree that the true tech writer becomes expert in the product. The difference between a tech writer and an engineer is that the writer develops product expertise over time -- gets to know all aspects of the product, rather than just one small piece of it, in the course of documenting that product. Often the engineer walks in to work on a product with a different expertise of his or her own that he or she applies to develop a small piece of the product. The engineer might never become an expert in the entire product the way that the tech writer eventually does.

Because our job as tech writers is to to learn the product as thoroughly as possible, applying previous experience and technical knowledge, we may start out on a product seeming relatively naive, but a good tech writer eventually becomes a respected member of the team. 

Perhaps the term SME is disturbing because use of it seems to imply that the tech writer will never develop any expertise. Your experience and mine both refute that assumption. I still remember considerable information about products I learned more than 15 years ago. I believe we continue to build on what we learn about each product and that the more products we've worked on, the more we have added to our personal technical repository and the more we have honed our ability to learn. So, even if a writer is not an expert in semiconductor manufacturing, the experienced writer can still document products in that field and develop that expertise.

Ruth

 
------------------------------------------------------------
Ruth Sessions
603/886-7355


________________________________
From: William Sherman <bsherman77 -at- embarqmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Sent: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 11:51 PM
Subject: Re: Tips on how to talk to SMEs

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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Follow-Ups:

References:
Tips on how to talk to SMEs: From: Craig Cardimon
Re: Tips on how to talk to SMEs: From: William Sherman

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