Re: TW on the development team (long)

Subject: Re: TW on the development team (long)
From: Gary Merrill <merrill -at- HYPERION -dot- PDIAL -dot- INTERPATH -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 3 Jan 1996 01:18:25 GMT

Susan W. Gallagher writes:

> If I mentioned this trend to writers who have never had the
> opportunity to be a part of the development team, they'd be
> overjoyed at the opportunity.

Not necessarily. I know many technical writers who prefer to work
in as much isolation from developers as possible. Most frequently this
is a result of the inability of the writer to grasp technical details in a
timely fashion.

> But...

> When we join the development team, we sign away our rights.

> As a part of the development team, we're resigned to be players,
> never leaders. While it's possible that a writer could effectively

Well, to a significant degree this is the nature of a *team*. You don't
sign away your rights. You simply acknowledge that others have similar
rights as well. And they, in turn, acknowledge your rights.

> lead a software project, especially if the main effort was an
> improvement to the user interface or if the product targeted

This, I must say, is simply a conceit. Why do you, as a writer,
suppose that you have a better feel for the user interface than
I, as a programmer, do? User interface design is really quite
complex and, in my experience, requires a great deal of trial
and error -- as well as listening to the ideas and advice of a
diverse group of potential users. I have worked with writers who
simply had no clue what the appropriate interface should (or
could) look like because they had such parochial experience.
The view of the programmer as a geek who is insensitive to the
user's needs and who is arrogant is a stereotype. The view of the
writer who is sensitive and knowledgeable about such things is
a stereotype (and a self-serving one) as well.

> We rescind our rights of ownership to our documents. We place
> ourselves directly under the control of software developers.

Not at all -- in a correctly organized team. I have worked on at least
one such team where the writer was a *major* contribution to the
development and testing of the product. Of course, she was
sufficiently competent technically to understand the product.

> There is no one who understands the communication process (such
> as a doc manager) to come to our defense when the lead programmer
> demands that we change the wording or delete a cautionary note
> because we point out a defect or cluge in the software.

Just poor managment and organization. Nothing more insidious than
that.

> OK, granted, I had a particularly bad experience, working under
> a lead programmer who had little respect for anyone who didn't
> aspire to be a programmer themselves.

Perhaps he also had little respect for someone who claimed to be
a writer but who committed obvious errors in grammar and usage.
Although I have worked with several technical writers who were
superbly competent in their field, I have also worked with a number
of technical writers who not only have distorted the technical sense
of the draft I provided them, but mangled the English or the style into
something obviously inferior to that with which they were provided.
And I have worked with others who when given a draft about which
I said *explicitly*, "This is a rough draft. I haven't had time to polish it
or add the sort of examples and fleshing out it needs," made simple
copy-editing changes and called it a day. In terms of respect,
you most often get what you deserve.

----------
Gary Merrill


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