Re: New slant: professionalism (long)

Subject: Re: New slant: professionalism (long)
From: Elna Tymes <etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 24 Apr 1998 14:21:28 -0700

John -

Thanks for getting part of my message, but not the whole context, as
Lucinda pointed out.

My point about professional behavior (and attitude) is that a lot of us
get heated but delayed responses to the behavior of others. These
others have usually limited what they were willing to do to some subset
of tasks that I would consider normal for a professional writer - for
instance, just editing and formatting, while the SME did all the
original writing - and when I came along, the hiring person was
concerned, to one degree or another, that I viewed technical writing
with the same limiting factors.

My experience with writers like this has been in Silicon Valley, and for
some three decades, so I have both a narrow and broad perspective. In
my experience, the "senior technical writers" most likely to coast are
older guys who got by doing editing and formatting on old MilSpec stuff
for the local DOD contractors and subcontractors (think Lockheed, GE,
and the like). THAT stuff was just plain horrible - but once you
learned how to think the way the contracting company wanted, you were
assured reasonably high rates for a long, long time. Most of these guys
are now retired, and thankfully the MilSpec standards have been
upgraded, but their behavioral legacy remains.

Early computer manuals, especially in the PC industry, were written
largely for techies and those of us who called ourselves technical
writers went along with that audience description, despite misgivings,
because Apple's focus on usability still hadn't made inroads. Again, in
many cases the technical source material had to come from technical
SME's, and while some of us were able to create new material, others
were not. People who got used to just editing, but got paid as
technical writers, carried that behavior pattern into the late 80's and
90's and wound up creating problems for those of us who take a more
analytical, overall look at the role of documentation.

We are in the middle of a period of major transition, IMHO, as to the
place of technical communication. My hunch is that in 5-10 years we
will see fewer paper manuals, more online material, but a wider variety
of ways being used to communicate explanations to the people who need
them. Just as most of us have had to learn how to do online Help
systems in the past three years, so will we find a need to learn some
new set of tools in another few years.

To me, a professional is one who continually spends some time learning
and evaluating new tools, so that he/she brings the best palette of
tools and choices to the customer. In the course of that, old habits
and limits get reviewed, updated or discarded as appropriate. And
that's where the layabouts bother me - I don't consider their behavior
professional, and I wind up taking heat for their actions (inactions,

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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