Organizational oddity

Subject: Organizational oddity
From: Jane Lorenzen <utarzan -at- HOTMAIL -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 12 Feb 1998 08:26:19 PST

I work for a large retailer whose I.S. department has no technical
writers. When they develop new software (for internal use only;
we're not in the software business), it's up to the users to create a
manual. Generally, one of the end-user SMEs or managers who worked most
closely with the developers writes up some how-to information
in Word.

The problem we're running into (aside from the obvious quality issue of
having documentation written by end-users with no training, interest, or
experience in technical writing) involves updating the documentation
once the software is updated. The end user representatives who were
involved with the system development move on to other positions, and
when changes are made to the systems, the "doc" gets lost in the shuffle
and is not updated.
I am the only tech writer in any of the end-user departments. My
applications are the only ones that have online help (not many buyers
or inventory managers are interested in doing winhelp).

In the Information Plan for my latest project I pointed out in the
"Maintenance" section that maintaining the doc will be done by
god-knows-whom, because once the project is complete a) the
client-side project manager's job will be complete and he'll move
back into a merchandising position, b) I'll be assigned full-time to
another project, and c) the users certainly aren't equipped to work with
Winhelp. Without the continuity of a fixed tech writing department,
outdated docs, both the online help I've developed in
past assignments and the paper training guides produced by end-users,
will be an ongoing problem.

When my manager asked me what the solution might be, I said, "I.S.
should have tech writers. They'd produce and update docs as systems are
developed and updated." So now he wants me to "write something up" for
his manager.

It sounds strange, but having tech writers in I.S. is a radical idea
here. It's unlikely that we'll convince I.S., which has always seen
documentation as "the users' problem," to start seeing it as part
of the services that they provide, especially in our current downsizing
mode, but I think we'd see a big improvement in both our interfaces and
our documentation if we could make tech writers a permanent fixture in

Do any of the rest of you report to the end-user department, as opposed
to the development area? How do you handle these issues?

Any other comments, supporting arguments, etc., are most welcome.

utarzan -at- hotmail -dot- com

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