Re: Careen Path

Subject: Re: Careen Path
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 4 Feb 1997 08:19:44 PST

Michael Wing writes:

>In much of the corporate world (oranges), Editors support writers. They
>(the Editors) make grammatical corrections; have input but not control
>on content; define, measure, and correct standards of style; and so
>forth. However, it the writer who has judgment on what goes in and what
>does not.

Those are copy editors. They exist in the publishing world, too.
I should have mentioned them, even though they aren't part of the
writer's career path. Copy-editors typically work for one of the
other editors on my list. The editors on my list are sometimes
called "content editors" to separate them from copy-editors.

The problem with being a copy-editor is that you have no authority over
anything, which gets old pretty fast. In a thoroughly professional
organization, copy-editing is treated very seriously, and any lack
of authority doesn't matter much, since the flaws in the work speak
for themselves once pointed out. But when some or all of the writing
is done by people who are not professional writers, the work tends
to include errors of structure, scope, and audience. A copy-editor
is not equipped with a big enough sword to slay such dragons.

If the writers are all good editors in their own right -- if they are
all paying attention to big-picture issues such as making sure that
all relevant topics are covered in at least one document in the document
suite, if they are accurately sizing up the audience before writing, if
they all prioritize correctly so that finished documents come out in
the right order, if they self-correct when a document doesn't work
the way it should, then they can get along without a content editor.

But all you have to do is add a couple of novices who are still feeling
their way, use contractors who do not instantly grasp the situation,
or sign up some engineers or marketers as authors, and things will
deteriorate rapidly. With no one managing the documentation process,
problems tend to get pretty big before anyone does anything about them.

Quality control is a management decision. If a company allows the
work of non-writers to be published without enforcing standards
of structure, audience, scope, value to the customer, usage -- or,
in fact, any standards of professionalism -- they have decided that
they are not interested in producing professional-quality documentation.
I've seen many such companies. If their professional writers produce
all their documentation, then the standards may be enforced without
managment's involvement, provided the writers are all good and can
agree on standards. Otherwise, there are islands of professionalism
in a sea of documents that are not so good. This is not a good place
to be if you ever want to be promoted, since a company that does
not disinguish between good work and bad will hardly see fit to
reward you for your good work.

I would no more expect a corps of copy-editors to improve a company's
documentation that I would expect a corps of ambulance drivers to
win a war. They arrive too late in the process and are underequipped
to deal with first causes. They provide an invaluable service to
patients with limited damage, but are helpless once the damage goes
beyond a certain point.

-- Robert
Robert Plamondon, 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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