Re: Skills needed by users of EPSS?

Subject: Re: Skills needed by users of EPSS?
From: "James M.Lockard" <norton -at- MCS -dot- NET>
Date: Mon, 29 Jul 1996 15:29:36 +0100

Elizabeth Boling wrote:

>I would appreciate the comments of anyone who subscribes to
>this list regarding these questions:

>- Can we presume that all the people who will be responsible
>for producing contributions to an EPSS will have the skills
>to do so effectively? Just because a person is a competent
>engineer or administrator, does that mean the person can
>prepare information to meet the constraints of a system and
>the needs of those who will use it?

No, we cannot presume that. A competent engineer is not necessarily a
competent writer. Even if the engineer were a competent writer, he or she
is not necessarily qualified to produce useful documentation. I'm currently
cleaning up a "knowledge-base" that was developed by business/information
systems experts. While the information's structure is passable, their
writing was awful in almost every way imaginable.

>- Are there systems you know about or have used that are
>capable of coaching people who are not professional tech
>writers through the process of preparing information for the
>use of others? Do you believe that software systems are
>capable of providing all the coaching necessary for this
>kind of task?

I've heard of none, and I'd be skeptical if I had. What a technical writer
does is not so simple that it can be built into another EPSS. Software
systems can coach their users in specialized tasks, but they're not capable
of distilling a technical communicator's knowledge, talent, and experience
for someone whose main expertise lies in an entirely different area.
Anybody can scribble notes about technical procedures that make perfect
sense to the writer, but technical writers understand what it takes to make
that information useful to others.

>- If you were coaching people who were not professional tech
>writers through the preparation of materials for
>distribution to their peers, what would you consider to be
>the minimum skills that person would have to develop?

That person would have to develop the ability to write coherent, correct
prose that makes sense to the people who have to read it. (That _doesn't_
mean the person makes frequent use Word's grammar and spelling checkers.)

I've seen what happens when technically proficient people who are not
communicators try to write documentation. I've seen it, and it's not
pretty. Now I'm doing the clean up. The writing is a mixed bag of typos,
punctuation and grammar errors, word choice problems (like "garnished"
where the writer meant "garnered"), incredibly impenetrable passive
constructions, and ridiculous paragraph constructions. In addition, some of
the information is inaccurate and all of it is badly organized. While some
electronic coaching may have helped, it certainly couldn't have saved this
system--that, unfortunately, is my job.

James Lockard
norton -at- mcs -dot- net

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