Re: Value added by technical documentation; counting blessings

Subject: Re: Value added by technical documentation; counting blessings
From: "Elaine R. Firestone" <elaine -at- CALVAL -dot- GSFC -dot- NASA -dot- GOV>
Date: Mon, 10 Mar 1997 13:50:22 -0500

>I get to start working on my first online doc project Monday. The few
>screens I have seen have some very strange names and very cryptic
>meanings; they will require a lot of explanation just so the user can
>understand them. The other technical writer says the programmers
>bristle when they think you are questioning their UI design. My
>question is, how can I guide them effectively in at least correcting
>some of the more glaring oddities without alienating them? Toys,
>pizza? What?

One of my jobs as a technical editor (WAY TO GO JEAN WEBER!) is to point
out how ambiguous language can be misconstrued. Here where I am, the SMEs
_are_ the writers and my job is to clean up what they've written, put it in
one voice, one style, etc. Any number of times a SME writes something, I
read it, and the phrase can be taken any number of ways depending on how
the reader interprets it. I go to the SME and say something to the effect
of "I read this over, and it's not quite clear what you meant by this. Do
you mean A, B, or C?" Invariably the answer is "D", i.e., none of the
above--they meant something totally different. In that case I say, "Just
tell me off the top of your head what you were trying to say." I write
down the rough phrases and then pretty it up from there. If I may quote a
fellow Copyediting-L memberer (is it you Geoff?) "I'm a professional idiot.
I'm paid to misunderstand what you write." Very appropos.


Elaine R. Firestone
elaine -at- calval -dot- gsfc -dot- nasa -dot- gov
elaine -at- seawifs -dot- gsfc -dot- nasa -dot- gov

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