Formatting Chaos

Subject: Formatting Chaos
From: Dan Azlin <dazlin -at- SHORE -dot- NET>
Date: Mon, 6 Jan 1997 23:05:13 -0500

There is a problem that I am struggleing with at a client's...

For the last 8 months or so I have been doing some heavy consulting hours
with a high-tech company that is going thru some real growing pains. Their
1.5 man writing group has been the butt of every excuse for late product
shipments and unhappy customers. I have been able to improve this situation
substantially, but now a new problem looms.

A contract tech writer with a training background (and world view) talked
himself into a sr techwriter position about 6 months ago. After a total of 1
year he has not produced a single finished document for this company. He has
spent considerable energy lobbying everyone from the Engineering VP to the
Janitor about a grand vision he has for a centralized/modularized
documentation scheme. When he first hit on me for support I thought he was
going for some form of information processing... but it soon became apparent
that he didn't know what he was talking about. He has been able to obtain
defacto approval (i.e. he hasn't been told NO) to create a single massive
maintenance document to include 6 somewhat related products ($500K-1.5M
capital equipment) where the document is modularized as a series of
independant monographs posing as "sections" of a comprehensive manual. There
is no uniform section numbering, page numbering, figure or table labelling,
single TOC or index. Figures are simple "there" with no contextual
references or identifying labels/numbers. He has also spent weeks distilling
procedural and theoretical descriptions to their "minimum requirements,"
sometimes distilling several pages of source material from previous manuals
into a single sentence.

Now he is being forced by his manager to release a draft document for
review. I suspect that his grand opus will crash and burn as it is basically
unusable as currently written and structured. Suggestions that the scope be
limited to single products and the document be structured in a more
conventional manner have been met with some hostility.

I have already picked up and repaired several projects for this client. I am
afraid that I might wind up on the receiving end of this mess. But, more
importantly, this client truely wants to improve their documentation
department and I would like to help them.

For one and all, your suggestions, ideas, and comments are welcomed directly
or in public.

Dan Azlin
Dan Azlin ** WORD ENGINEERS, Technical Writing & Publishing **
dazlin -at- shore -dot- net 7 Myrtle Street
ph/fax 508-921-8908 Beverly, MA 01915-3315

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