Re: Structured writing = commodified writing

Subject: Re: Structured writing = commodified writing
From: Chris Despopoulos <despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 22 May 2014 01:16:28 -0700 (PDT)

I pretty much agree with the responses here...  It's not the tool but the product that determines whether it's a commodity.  The only thing I'll add is that it's not always the fault of higher management, and not always the fault of management at all. 

I've worked FOR pubs managers who couldn't get beyond the old-school notion that pubs is a gate-keeping requirement, and that the rest of the company is providing services to meet that requirement.  This is only true (and only remotely true) when paper is the ultimate medium.  Ironically, these managers become resentful when the rest of the project team gives them modern expectations, and even more resentful when the team questions the value of their output.  This ends in a downward spiral -- such a department can only survive if it convinces higher management that pubs is a necessary liability, and content quality is expendable in preference to content quantity.  Look for another job -- you will get thrown under the bus.

I've also worked WITH writers who are out of the comfort zone in any situation other than the above.  These people value fonts, layout, process, and templates over the actual content.  They might be grammarians or they might produce gibberish -- that's a crap-shoot.  But they certainly don't stop to *learn* the product over and above the actual "procedures" they "document".  Typical constructs follow this formula (we've all seen it):
"The FOO button foos a bar.  To foo a bar, click FOO."

If you're in a team of these people, make your own relationships with the developers and Marketing, and establish your own reputation.  You will shine in comparison, and people will ask for you when they form up new projects.  If the manager supports good writing, you will have a good life.

This is what makes tech writing a commodity.  All the DITA in the world can't make it less of a commodity.  Nor can DITA turn good writing into a commodity.  Tech writing is about much more than page count -- it's about adding value to a project.  Look for those types of opportunities and you will not sink into the commodity morass.
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