Re: writing and liability (*way* long!)

Subject: Re: writing and liability (*way* long!)
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 29 Mar 1996 11:55:29 -0800

Guy McDonald wrote to answer Rick Lippincott.
I'm responding to ask for clarification of Guy's
ideas and to add some input of my own.
(Well, OK, in retrospect, a *lot* of input of my own <g>)

>Rick Lippincott (rjl -at- bostech -dot- com) states:

>"Just a slight point of clarification: most of the tech manuals used by the
>military are -not- written by the military."

>Rick's statement is mostly accurate in the majority of US military
>departments.
[snip ...largest "corporation"...worth looking at...]

>Case in point: Technical Documentation & Controls

>Out of the 2000 or so communicators on Techwr-l, most of us provide
>services to the computer software/hardware/help industry.
[snip ...dominate the conversation...]


>My experience in the Naval Nuclear Power Program left a life-long imprint
>that cemented the importance of motivating pride in ownership. Twice I
>have unsuccessfully attempted to raise this thread with you folk. Now I
>plunge once again into the deep, ringing up ahead Standard, 8 degree
>downbubble.

>Lippincott's statement lacks one very important theme. The US Military
>considers "deckplate" input extremely valuable.
[snip ...people in the field write the procedures...]
> Today, the US Naval Nuclear
>Power Program enjoys a noteworthy & proud history. The dubious civilian
>counterparts however are quite a different story.

>Therefore, it is extremely important to include the "man/woman in the
>field" into the production of technical documentation. [...snip...] You
>"certification" people want respect? [...snip...]
>The beauty of approaching a mid-sized to large corporate
>client with the concept that his/her organization can readily produce what
>I am now providing, quite frankly EXCITES me! To motivate and convert any
>corporation into establishing a stand alone Training Department, with a
>Technical Documentation team/arsenal at its disposal, is the *wave of
>corporate destiny*. My advice to you? Get with the program, because it's
>smart business. Otherwise, continue to watch the higher paying jobs
>disappear as more companies figure out how to cut costs and increase
>production.

>Before you hit the "reply" button.... remember, I am *not* speaking to the
>majority of you "computer" writers that focus on soft/hardware development.
> You wonderfully bright pioneers are a totally different breed of animal.
> It is impossible to ask your clients (users) to replace you. Will the
>rest of us work ourselves out of a job? You becha! Could we make a ton of
>money doing it & have lots of FUN? Ya!! You becha!!!! Join the team...
>it's a happy one indeed =:)

Sorry I left so much of Guy's original post in, but the words he uses
are important. Guy, what I think you're saying is that we need desperately
to include input from the user into our work and that, in some industries
-- but not hardware and software -- it's possible that the user could
replace the techwriter in the documentation process. Is that right???

And, thanks for the glowing complements to the computer-related tech
writing industry, but...

I'm not sure the computer industry is as immune to the above as you
think it is. Frequently, as you walk through the modern-day office, you
see stickies surrounding the computer screen, notes taped to printers,
etc. These are, in fact, elements of the end-user documentation process
just as much as the 19-year-old nuclear tech who writes the procedures.
We don't *need* to ask our clients to replace us. They do it already --
routinely and, I'm afraid, automatically! They do it every time we
fail to meet their needs.

The truth is, we need get our collective act together, not just in the
military/industrial complex, not just in private industry, not just in
the computer industry, but everywhere! We, as professional writers,
assume that we add value to a project just by being there. We arrogantly
assume that just because we purge a document of passive voice and format
it nicely, we've done our job. And, oh boy, are we wrong!

If we really want to save our jobs and serve our users, we need to stop
obsessing about hyphens and start looking at the world from the user's
perspective, perform effective and *realistic* task analyses, and write
procedures that are *usable* in the *real world*.

Now, will the user set up training and doc departments of their own?
Should we help them to? Will this eliminate us? Will this save them
money? Well. I think the cost of the product and product support will
remain constant whether it is being supported by the manufacturer or
the end-user. It's a matter of paying up front for doc and training
that come with the product or paying as you go to support yourself
in-house, but the bottom line cost is about the same. The major bene
to the user is that doc and training won't need to be generic, it'll
be exactly suited to the situation.

Can we do that, suit the doc & training to the situation, in the org
model we currently work in? Probably not to the extent that
decentralization would. But we could certainly come a *lot* closer.

How many of us have ever actually *met* someone who uses our product????
How many of us have ever seen our product in-use in a real-world
situation????
How many of us have performed a task analysis in the last year???

I don't see a whole lot of hands out there! ;-) Maybe it's time to get
more in-touch with our user base. Let me rephrase that... It may not
be too late to become intimately involved with our user base! ;-)

I began my career as a corporate trainer. In essence, I replaced the
tech writers at MS, WordPerf, Ashton-Tate, etc. by creating reference
and lesson materials that were more appropriate for the target
audience than the "official" documentation. This effort is on-going
at hundreds of training companies across the country.

So, Guy... I *think* I know what you mean. But, as far as you're
singling out the computer industry as an exception, I think you're
way off base!

-Sue Gallagher
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com


Previous by Author: JOB 4 NERD--SAN DIEGO
Next by Author: Re: WANT: multiple-GIF viewing tool, WWW lists
Previous by Thread: On-line Help for Our Products
Next by Thread: Job Listing - LA and San Diego


What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads


Sponsored Ads