Is It My Job?

Subject: Is It My Job?
From: Moshe Koenig <alsacien -at- NETVISION -dot- NET -dot- IL>
Date: Fri, 16 Aug 1996 21:48:08 PDT

I'd like some referees on a situation that I have faced on a project
that doesn't seem to want to die. Somehow I feel that I'm being
stuck with a job that not only isn't mine but that shouldn't be.

I have been writing documentation for a product that is about to be
released in which I strongly believe. I work with a team of
programmers who are highly skilled but who are not particularly
strong on user-friendly interface or useability, and context-
sensitive help is very much outside their field of specialty (the
programmers are of Eastern European origin and were not schooled
in the hyper-commerciality of the West). For them, the online
Help that I am writing is a maiden voyage. Consequently, we've
run aground on a number of issues.

After I prepared my initial online Help project, the programmers
told me that they could not work with my context strings; they
provided me with a file with the context strings and numbers
that they wanted to use. I aliased the entire project to make
their strings take priority. Then I got my next surprise: they
told me that my Help was "worthless" because I needed to provide
documentation on every menu option so that a user choosing a
menu option could press F1 and get a description of the command
the option launched.

To my way of thinking, doing this makes no sense; in effect, I would
be replicating the message from the status bar AND the tip help,
but the developers were adamant; only the project manager felt that
I had a point, but not one he was willing to contest with his team
of developers. I decided that the sanest solution was to do a
screen capture of the menu and to create popups for each option (the
project is for a Win 3.11 application). I then aliased the topics
with the segmented menus. To my utter astonishment, the developers
rejected my solution outright! They gave me back a map file with their
strings and numbers and comments regarding what they regarded as my
own lack of professionality!

I really can't say to what extent technical writers work with
developers when it comes to making context sensitive Help, but it
seems to me that the technical writer has to close out matters of
design with the project manager, not with the developers, who then
request redundancy that serves only to inflate the Help file, which
is already rivaling the software itself for disk space required.
Most of the technical writers I know only prepare standalone Help
and, at the most, include aliases, but it doesn't go as far as I've
been asked to go.

Where do I draw the line? Is this my job?

- Moshe

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