Re: TW Perceptions (long reply)

Subject: Re: TW Perceptions (long reply)
From: Steve Fouts <stefou -at- ESKIMO -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 1 Oct 1996 18:34:11 GMT

FerrondD -at- aol -dot- com wrote in article
<960930220817_534072756 -at- emout12 -dot- mail -dot- aol -dot- com>...
| What I really want to know is what is the perception of technical
writers?
| Last week I met someone at my camera club meeting who asked me normal
| get-to-know-you questions: Where did I attend college, What did I do for

| living, etc. Then he asked me if technical writing was what I thought I'd
end
| up doing. He sounded like I had told him I had gone to med school, law
school
| and was working as a janitor.

Seems to me that this country would be better 'n it is if a whole lot
of the folks who went to law school were, in fact, working as janitors.

This is an incredible can of worms on this list, as you will soon see.
As a whole, technical writers seem to suffer from a massive, but not
entirely undeserved inferiority complex. (Oooh, I'm gonna get roasted for
that!) There are good technical writers, and there are bad technical
writers and there is good documentation and some truly gawdawful stuff
out there. But the simple fact of the matter is that there is a lot more
bad documentation out there than there are bad tech. writers.

How is this possible? Three things tend to affect the quality of the
document. Time, staff, and, uh, content. By content I mean the quality and
quantity of information. That is to say, given a fixed staff and a fixed
time, you can write a really good short piece, or a bad long one. By bad I
mean not as well thought out, organized, indexed, explained, whatever.
Not as useful for the purpose. Ideally, the document group should have
control over all three, but realistically you can find yourself in
control of as few as none. (Editors note: I said it that way on purpose.)

Many of us have had the unfortunate experience of being assigned to,
"document everything, have it done in three weeks," and very few of us
have the (whatever it takes?) to look the boss in the eye and say, "it's
gonna suck if I do it that way."

To add to our woes, there are very few companies where the head of the
documentation department reports to the CEO. So, we end up getting tossed
in to some other organization that does something so completely alien
to what we do that it is difficult to relate to our peers in a
professional environment, and difficult to get the kind of support
that you need from a manager that does not fully understand what it
takes to do your job.

So sometimes good writers make docs that suck and as pretty much our only
recourse is to whine and make excuses. Or we get really edgy. Like when
the project manager that gave you three weeks to document everything comes
waltzing in to your cubey to announce that he found a typo on page 212
in a level one heading and he really expects a higher level of quality
from you. You either go off on him, "If you'd given me enough time to
adequately proof read the #*&(#*$ that wouldn't have happened," or you
go off on the next person you see for no apparent reason, "I told you I
wanted #(*&#%* decaf!"

So, in some companies, technical writing tends to get a pretty poor
reputation that is not wholly undeserved. "The stuff they write is a
joke and if you try to show them a way to improve it they bite your
head off. What a bunch of weenies."

"What we have here is a failure to communicate."

I tend to believe that the way to get people to treat you like a
professional is to act like one. Give people realistic expectations
of what kind of work they can expect and what time frame they can
expect it in. Be flexible. Life is a tradeoff. Educate people so
that the choices they make are intelligent ones.

If your estimate is a wild guess, tell 'em.

| I didn't exactly have the
| background for either job and both times I was told that it was preferred
| that I didn't have either a finance or computer background.

That's another can of worms.

Steve
stefou -at- eskimo -dot- com


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