Re: Non-technical, Technical Writers

Subject: Re: Non-technical, Technical Writers
From: Janice Gelb <janiceg -at- MARVIN -dot- ENG -dot- SUN -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 7 May 1998 09:25:22 -0700

Andrew Plato <aplato -at- EASYSTREET -dot- COM> said:
> I am curious what you and your company do about this problem. How do you
> deal with non-technical people selling themselves as being technical? When
> someone starts obsessing over the shape of bullets and completely ignores
> the fact that the material in question is technically inaccurate what do you
> do? Fire them? Beat them with a 2x4? Send them to Dan Dorfman's School
> for Technical Underachievers?

I certainly agree with the respondents who said that who said that it
was most important for a technical writer to have commnication skills
and the ability to pick up new technologies quickly. Speaking as an
editor, I think my editing skills are more important that my knowledge
of a particular technical area. (For example, I had only worked in the
PC and Macintosh universe when I came to Sun. When I edited my first
UNIX document and ran across the instruction "Become superuser," I
thought maybe you had to leap into a phone booth or something...) The
worst that can happen in this case is that the editor or writer asks
a bit more elementary questions of the writer or SME than a more
experienced person might.

HOWEVER, I also think that if you are going to be hiring someone to
document a highly specialized area that uses a particular vocabulary
and concepts, finding a writer who is already familiar with that area
is a plus. I recommend in that case that someone familiar with that
area be part of the interviewing process. If you haven't caught them in
time, they are now permanent employees, are decent writers whose only
fault are that they are not technical enough, and you have invested
some time in them, probably the best thing to do is to send them to
classes on whatever field it is that you're expecting them to

> I'll be up-front and admit I have a hidden agenda for asking this question.
> I am really interested in collecting some horror stories about this as well
> as how those situations were resolved. This is for a special project I am
> working on.

As long as you're collecting horror stories, I used to work for the
late, lamented Ashton-Tate and we once got a resume from a writer claiming
he was familiar with our core product, dBASE. When one of our
senior writers interviewed him, she quickly discovered that he barely
knew anything about it. I thought that was amazing chutzpah, to come to
a company that invented a product and try to fake them out that you
were familiar with it!

Janice Gelb | The only connection Sun has with this
janice -dot- gelb -at- eng -dot- sun -dot- com | message is the return address.

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