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The big pitfall of being a "captive" writer on an engineering team is
that tech writing is a customer-oriented function, and many engineers
are not customer-oriented. In fact, many engineers are prejudiced toward
all customer-oriented people in the company (sales, marketing, production,
customer service, and others).
People in sales, marketing, and customer service know that cusotmers
need documentation, and that documentation helps close the sale and keep
the customer coming back for more. Engineers often know nothing of the
sort. Working with clueless engineers is annoying. Working FOR
clueless engineers tends to be degrading.
Of course, there are customer-oriented engineers, engineering groups,
and companies. Successful companies tend to start out with customer-
oriented engineers, since satisfying customers is how you make your
company successful. Time and growth cause a regression toward the
mean, however, as the customer-oriented engineers become senior managers,
drift to other companies, or simply become outnumbered by engineers
who are not tremendously interested in what happens to the product
once it leaves their lab.
In an ordinary company, with ordinary engineers with ordinary attitudes,
Tech Pubs should be part of Marketing or (in some cases) Sales.
In an extraordinary company, with the engineering team fully committed
to making the company successful, supporting Sales, and satisfying
the customer, reporting structure is less important.
In either event, though, things need to be set up in such a way that
the business of Tech Pubs can be done. Document maintenence is a big
task in any company that isn't brand-new. In many companies, maintaining
existing documents is the largest task in Tech Pubs. A decentralized
each-development-team-does-its-own-thing approach causes document
management chaos, which is bad for the company. It's one thing to
assign writers to projects: it's quite another to eliminate all
editorial, archiving, and maintenence functions, leaving the individual
writer as the only organizational unit in Tech Pubs -- but that's what
a lot of companies do.
The concept of "Managing Editor" needs to be explained to a lot of
Robert Plamondon, President/Managing Editor, High-Tech Technical Writing, Inc.
36475 Norton Creek Road * Blodgett * Oregon * 97326
robert -at- plamondon -dot- com * (541) 453-5841 * Fax: (541) 453-4139
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