RE: Original work [was RE: STC certification program: skepticalcurmudgeonlyness, part II]

Subject: RE: Original work [was RE: STC certification program: skepticalcurmudgeonlyness, part II]
From: "Janoff, Steve" <sjanoff -at- illumina -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, 'Mark Baker' <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com>, 'PeterNeilson' <neilson -at- windstream -dot- net>
Date: Fri, 21 Oct 2011 19:45:03 +0000

I think folks are confusing the point of my post so let me first say what the post was *not* about and then what it *is* about:

1. It's *not* about certification
2. It's *not" about attribution of authorship

Here's what it is about, and apologies if I failed to communicate this clearly:

1. The idea comes from Edmond H. Weiss's "How to Write a Usable User Manual," a work cited by Paul Hanson last month.
2. Weiss talks about two cultures of tech writers: the writer-as-artist, and the writer-as-engineer. (The former is a creative type who hoards work, doesn't show anything till it is "ready," and spends the bulk of time drafting and polishing the work -- and also assumes he/she knows what the user wants, working in isolation. The latter does everything to spec, shows everything up front, is more interested in what the user needs, and spends the bulk of time testing the output -- operating like a software developer.)
3. In his book he basically says the approach taken by the writer-as-engineer is superior to that taken by the writer-as-artist. And he makes a good case. (And I agree.)
4. It's becoming evident that with single-sourcing, reuse, etc. (as you point out), we are moving more toward the writer-as-engineer. (Developing a doc set, a doc spec for each doc in the set, having the spec and the drafts reviewed at every step of the way, and then the output tested rigorously.)
5. With the increased line-blurring of what writers do, there may be some contradictions with hiring managers steeped in the writer-as-artist tradition, who insist on saying "Show me your work" and "Prove to me that this is yours." The writer-as-engineer cannot do this as easily as the writer-as-artist can (or may try to).

Weiss says (or said, in 1985) that tech writers should adopt development models used by software engineers.

So a question comes to mind: When a software developer goes in for an interview, what does he/she say when asked what he/she has worked on? What would a software developer "show" as work? What if the person worked on a huge project as part of a large team, was an important part of the project, but couldn't really point to any particular code as being his or hers?

The question is really this: In moving to the writer-as-engineer paradigm, which seems superior (and is happening anyway), how do we move to more of a developer's style of presenting our work over the course of a career?

Again, this is *not* a certification question. And disclaimer: I plan to stay where I am put right now. I love my job and I love my company. I am asking an *industry-related*, *career-long* question.

Thank you,

Steve

-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Baker [mailto:mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com]
Sent: Friday, October 21, 2011 12:21 PM
To: Janoff, Steve; techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com; 'PeterNeilson'
Subject: RE: Original work [was RE: STC certification program: skepticalcurmudgeonlyness, part II]


> What the VP did was a form of internal plagiarism, but then again not
> because as the attorney points out, the original report was a work
> made for hire.

I'm always a little puzzled by writer's fixation on plagiarism in a corporate setting. Plagiarism is an academic sin. In a corporate setting, you worry about copyright, but plagiarism really shouldn't be a significant concern. The content all belongs to the corporation anyway.

In fact, with the increasing emphasis on content reuse in the corporate setting, plagiarism is actually becoming a significant source of cost savings. If I find a piece of existing content and insert it into my report, that saves the corporation the cost of paying me to write it myself. My contribution, which is perfectly valid, is to identify the existing content as relevant to the report I am writing. It is still my report, and I deserve the credit for it, and the credit for saving costs while creating it.

If Joe in the machine shop finds that an existing bracket invented by Bob, can be used in a new project, the right thing to do is to use the existing bracket. Bob, certainly, may want to point out to his manager that the bracket he designed is being used in another program, thus saving the company money. That is a feather in Bob's cap. But if Bob went to his boss and wined that Joe had plagiarized him and that he should have taken the time to design his own bracket instead of using Bob's design, his boss would have told him he was nuts.

The issue of reuse does raise another interesting angle on the certification issue. Some companies are now reporting 80 or 90 percent reuse, and while I am not at all sure how they are measuring that, it does raise the possibility that some technical writers are not actually writing any new text at all. All, or virtually all, of their work might be finding existing content that can reused in a new setting. They still have to judge the content's fitness for purpose, which surely requires a tech writer's judgment. Would such people be excluded from certification on the grounds of not creating new words, or on the grounds of plagiarism?

By the way, this thread has inspired me to blog on the subject "Technical Communication is not a Commodity"
(http://everypageispageone.com/2011/10/20/technical-communication-is-not-a-c
ommodity/), if anybody is interested.

Mark
---
Mark Baker

* Every Page is Page One *
http://everypageispageone.com
http://twitter.com/mbakeranalecta
http://about.me/mark.baker

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References:
RE: Original work [was RE: STC certification program: skeptical curmudgeonlyness, part II]: From: Janoff, Steve
RE: Original work [was RE: STC certification program: skepticalcurmudgeonlyness, part II]: From: Mark Baker

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