Re[4]: on custom-built docs & feature databases...

Subject: Re[4]: on custom-built docs & feature databases...
From: Joyce Flaherty <flahertj -at- SMTPGW -dot- LIEBERT -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 1 Apr 1996 13:42:39 EST

Text item: Text_1

JF: I asked
JF: Charles Cantrell
JF: chc -at- ontario -dot- com
JF: for permission to forward his msg to the list.
JF: He wrote:

CC: I have no objection whatsoever to you forwarding them,
CC: if you think they will be of general interest.

JF: joyce flaherty
JF: flahertj -at- smtpgw -dot- liebert -dot- com
JF: I do, and his private msg to me follows:


In your discussion on the listserv, the following snip was posted:

> dare I mention that taking the tool expertise and page > design
function away from the tech writers is another > objective.

I have seen this same idea in an ad for a Chicago firm looking for a
technical writer expressed as (very freely quoted):

> looking for a technical writer who can write.
> No desktop publishing, just real technical writing.

I understand the need for writing output and productivity. One of the
reasons for a style guide is to communicate the design decisions
throughout the team. This lets us make that decision one time, rather
than several. And, it keeps us consistent.

But, as a technical writer who believes that the most important part
of the job is "information transfer" or "development of instructional
content", I am not very convinced that writing words without an
awareness of the context in which the user will see them [the
illustrations, their juxtaposition to other concepts and topics, their
place within the overall scheme of the documentation set] allows me to
ensure that the information transfer occurs. And, if that transfer
does not occur, then any apparent productivity increase is spurious.

If the writer working at the craft of information transfer is not to
make these kinds of decisions, then who is?

A recent article in Intercom talks about the interative process of
understanding that affects the structure of the document as the writer
produces a document. If all the writer is doing is writing words, I do
not see how this process can occur.

JoAnn Hackos presents an illustration in one of her classes about a
two page (front and back) quick reference card that took about 300
hours to design, develop and write in order to present the information
in the best possible way for the end user. Without a writer who is
deeply involved in user testing, design and presentational
development, this kind of project cannot be successful. [The card
reduced front-line installation service calls by a very high

If these kinds of instructional design decisions are not made by the
writer, then they will either not be made, or they must be moved to
another member of the task team. In
the one case, the user is the loser (and eventually the company who
has increased support or lower client satisfaction). In the other, I
am not sure that
you have gained any productivity advantage.

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