Re: TW Perceptions

Subject: Re: TW Perceptions
From: Fred Randall <frandall -at- SOMAT -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 1 Oct 1996 09:42:07 -0500

Phi Hellerman wrote:

>Recently surfing the web for information on technical writing, I
>discovered an interesting article called "The Future of Technical
>Publications" at

>A panel was convened to discuss the future of technical publications.
>One panelest (Director level) made the following comment.

>"The ideal technical writer realizes that tech pubs will always be a
service organization with relatively low status in the corporation."

>Why is such self-flagellation permitted?

Because it's realistic and that's the way it is in many companies.
All too often those in management (including company presidents)
assume that any one who can write can do technical writing and develop
effective documentation or, worse yet, they don't think having well-done
documentation is worth the investment [I originally wrote "expense"
instead of "investment," but good documentation is indeed an investment
that can help ensure sales of a product.] You also have the companies
where documentation is an afterthought, hastily thrown together at the
last minute.
And the user side we have the numerous calls to technical support
asking for help on something that is nicely and cogently explained in the
user's guide. ("Now, sir, please turn to page 4-5 in the User's Guide. Are
you there? Good. Now go to. . . And next time, read the @#$%& manual
before you call! Do you understand me, you @#$%& dipstick?!" Oh that
last part felt so good!!)
Though we strive to compile, organize, and present information in an
effective manner, as best we can, our efforts are all too often not appre-
ciated nor esteemed by those who do not realize the work involved. If we
do our job well, our work is transparent and not notable--it's what is
expected. But if we do a poor job, it seems everyone notices.
Those of us who've been tech writing for a while know that the weeks
of work we and others spent developing documentation will often sit on
the shelf or in a box until that time when tech support and the local com-
puter store are closed and knowledgable friends and relatioves aren't
Am I a pessimist? Not really. You just have to realize and be willing to
accept that you may spend months working on some that very few people
will read, no matter how good it is.
So how can we improve our plight where we have low status within a
company? Get yourself a champion (or champions)! Find someone in man-
agement who can influence others and get that person on your side:
persuade them that well-written, effective documentation is a vital to the
company (if they don't know already). Whenever possible, impress on the
management folks how the quality of documentation can affect perceptions
of a product (and thus sales of it). Once enough of the right people see
how vital documentation is to the success of a product, and how much
work there is in producing it, your status in the company should rise a bit.

[ Rant over. Back on my head. ]

Fred Randall
Documentation Specialist
SoMat Corporation, Urbana IL (in the Heart of the "Silicon Prairie")

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