SME vs Tech Writer WRT ISO 9000

Subject: SME vs Tech Writer WRT ISO 9000
From: Chuck Melikian <chuckm -at- TEKADM1 -dot- CSE -dot- TEK -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 21 Apr 1995 14:58:38 PDT

Gary Gray wrote in response to a post by Mike LaTorra:

> >I was surprised and disheartened when I read the following on
> >Frame Tech's WWW homepage under the subject "ISO 9000" subsection
> >"Characteristics of Quality System Documents":

> > - The documents are generally written and maintained
> > by subject matter experts rather than professional writers.

> Well, I think you're missing the key word here... "ISO 9000." These
> sorts of documents are made for internal use only, to govern the
> standards of quality control in any group within a company. ISO
> 9000 is a set of quality assurance standards that dictate that
> *everything* a company does should be documented in every
> detail.

Our company is ISO 9000 certified. And what Gary says is absolutely
corrrect. However, note that while ISO 9000 requires a company to have
a quality control system in place, the standard leaves the implementation
of the quality control system up to the company. What that boils down to is
that the company decides what quality is and how it will achieve its
quality goals. In the case of documentation, our policy document is
six pages long. In our policy document (like Gary said, everything is
documented :-) ) we state who can work on our manuals (tech writers as
assigned by management, who in turn can authorize other employees
(for example, illustrators) to work on manuals), when manuals can be
worked on (an official "Mod" or engineering change order or new product
development project is required to sanction work on a manual), and who must
sign-off manuals before they are released for production. For the most part,
what we did was to formally document the processes we already had in place.
While we now have a slightly longer paper trail than we did before ISO 9000
certification occurred, it isn't overwhelming.

The statement on the Frame Tech WWW site is, as far as I can tell, simply
their decision about how to implement the ISO 9000 standard. Keep in
mind that the reference to SME may be a technical document SME. That is, they
are saying that they will use experts in documentation rather than a freelance
writer that writes about whatever. I know, that's stretching the definition
of an SME. But, also note that the statement about SMEs is in reference to
Quality System Documents. This could be read as Quality-System Documents or
Quality System-Documents. If they are talking about documents describing the
quality system, then they probably should be written by folks that know
quality systems. But, if they are are talking about system documents which
are of high quality, then they probably should be written by tech writers. :-)

And finally, it seems to me that anyone that gets paid to write is a
professional writer, whether that person is an engineer, journalist-turned-
technical writer (a recent thread in this group :-) ), or a "real" technical
writer (whoever she may be). So, if Frame doesn't use professional writers,
then they must be using amateur writers (just kidding).

> Now, granted, these things would greatly benefit from a full-on assault
> by technical writers with backup from technical editors (and an
> on-call staff of mental health professionals). But I think most companies
> would want to put their usually limited technical writing resources to
> work on things that customers actually read, or are actually read
> by people when they are doing their jobs.

Not to mention the fact that technical writers are cheaper than engineers.
But seriously, using SMEs to write brings up the question of how does one
maintain expert status on electronic design and be an expert on documentation?
Both are a full time jobs. And if a company wants to use the best people for
every job, it cannot use an expert in design as a writer. One job or the other
will be sub-optimal, which is not in the best interest of the company.


> Considering the fact that the ISO 9000 standards (the ones created by
> the ISO committee) are themselves completely unreadable (written
> entirely in passive voice!) I'd hardly expect that the documents written by
> companies to comply ISO 9000 would be any better.

Well, can be obtuse. Especially the ones written by engineering. :-)

> >It seems to me that this is a prescription for documentation that
> >is written by experts, for experts; and even then it may not be
> >well-organized, well-written (grammatically), or even complete.

> That is ISO 9000 documents in a nutshell (from my limited experience,
> granted).

ISO 9000 does not require that documentation be written by SMEs. Our
ISO 9000 documentation certainly does not and we are certified.


> No one besides the people in the group the documentation is written
> for needs it. In this case, no one is going to blame it on the
> tech writers... Of course, tech writers could volunteer to clean up the
> ISO 9000 documents. If you do, you're a far better person than I (and
> probably far less sane). Seriously, though, I do think tech writers have
> a place in a good ISO 9000 plan, and I'm sure a lot of them are about
> to send me nasty e-mail ;-) It's just that I've never seen a good ISO 9000
> plan, and frankly, I'd rather write useful documentation for end-users or
> internal users than ISO 9000 docs.

ISO 9000 plans can enhance the position of technical writers. Our plan does.
Again, the ISO 9000 system basically requires the company to show that it has
a system in place that will guarantee quality results and that if problems
occur, they will be addressed (that is, there is a feedback loop in place).
Exactly how quality results are achieved is left up to the company.

> Gary Gray
> (Who is overjoyed that his non-international company isn't
> doing ISO 9000 certification).

Chuck Melikian
(Who isn't bothered at all that his international company does have
ISO 9000 certification. :-) )

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