Learning and Contributing

Subject: Learning and Contributing
From: "Eric J. Ray" <ejray -at- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 20 May 1997 07:55:16 -0600

(Long rant, but I have a couple of sadly intermingled
tech writing/list-related points -- please bear with)

It was written:
>the subtle discrimination that's used against the uninitiated in this
>freelancing business. When you first start out on your own, it's pretty hard
>to find out what rates are like unless colleagues are willing to talk.

But you know, the fact of "not knowing" does not imply
discrimination, particularly not in the business world.
(If ignorance were the same as being discriminated
against, then I'd have a strong case for continuing
discrimination against me. As a not-old, white, male,
I doubt that would fly.)

People starting out in ANY endeavor will find that there is
a lot to learn. If the "something new" is VERY new, people
find that they not only don't know what they need to know,
they also don't know what questions to ask. It's only after
continued exposure, benefitting from mistakes, and pushing
the boundaries that people learn.

Part of the purpose for this list is to help people learn.
Actually, that's probably most of the purpose for this list.
Through sharing information, tips, ideas, and experiences,
we can all grow without the need to learn every lesson
at the school of hard knocks.

Some of the information to share is easily and willingly
shared. E.g. experiences with Word's Fast Save option (bad),
Master Documents (worse), and HTML conversion techniques.
Some of the information is less willingly shared, but will
drift out. For example, interviewing techniques, writing processes,
and managing your boss/employees tips.
Finally, some information just doesn't lend itself to public
discussion. E.g. salaries, bad experiences with specific

Through reasoned discussions on this list and others, a new-to-the-field
individual can lurk and fairly quickly come up to speed with many of
the main issues in the first couple of categories, and
many do. However, without also CONTRIBUTING to the
discussions and general flow of knowledge, access to the
third category of information is limited.

Fundamentally, I think this works like most social or
personal relationships. There has to be a certain amount
of understanding developed before confidences are
exchanged. In the final analysis, you get out of it
what you put into it.

If someone who contributes information to
the list emails me privately to ask a personal question
about the business of technical writing, I'd probably answer it.
Depending, of course, on the question and the timing.
However, I'd at least consider it. If someone who regularly
contributes USEFUL information and well-reasoned
thoughts to the list asks me about my rates, productivity,
or clients, I'm likely to give them an answer. At least,
I'd be able to know that they're not directly competing
for my clients or trying to undercut me.

On the other hand, I would not answer such a question
if it comes out of the blue, nor would I answer such a question
if the only knowledge of or information about the sender
comes from questions posted, complaints lodged, or
flames thrown.

What strikes me as odd is the expectation, often expressed
to me or occuring as an undertone to messages on this list,
that information or help be provided promptly and
thoroughly, without question or regard for anything else.
Speaking only for myself (although I think it's a fairly
widespread feeling), I'm generally happy to help out.
However, if there's an _expectation_ that I provide information
or do something in particular, I'm likely to refuse.

Part of this rant stems from some recent unpleasantness
on the list, followed by complaints about same, followed
by meta-complaints. Part stems from the initial contractor/
anonymity issue. Part stems from a recent unpleasant exchange
with a subscriber who e-mailed me privately with an issue
directly addressed in the FAQ. (After I pointed out that I'd
just posted that information and please read the FAQ, I was
told that I was unbearable rude and unhelpful, among other things. I took
the time to check, and this same individual had posted three
or four questions over the past year and provided no
summaries or responses to other questions. Speaking of unhelpful...)
And finally, part derives from the recent postings by Jim, Tim, and
others and from the latest (EXCELLENT!) Technical Communication editorial
by George Hayhoe.

We'd all benefit -- and this community would greatly benefit --
from a little more consideration of others and a lot more of
just being nice. Not to be patronizing, but ...
Before you post,
* ask yourself if you'd like to be addressed in that manner,
* if you'd like to have the company you own flamed like that,
* if you'd like your prospective employers or your mom to
see your message.
If you have help to offer/advice to give/insight to provide,
either on or off-list, please do so. If you post a question and get
good off-line responses, summarize for the rest of us. (See the
recent summary by Barb Philbrick <caslonsvcs -at- IBM -dot- NET> for an
example of what to do.) If you have harsh personal criticism
or flames to offer, turn off the computer and take a jog, or, at
the least, send privately and spare the rest of us.
And finally, before you _demand_ information, cooperation,
or full disclosure from people who have invested their time, money,
and effort into a community, ask yourself what you're giving back.
Likely you'll find that if you're giving back to the community
at whatever level you can, you'll also find that the knowledge you need
is at your fingertips.

And be nice to each other. Please.


Eric J. Ray ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com
TECHWR-L Listowner http://www.raycomm.com/

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