Re: WHAT did you say? (WAS: What is a SME?)

Subject: Re: WHAT did you say? (WAS: What is a SME?)
From: "Eric J. Ray" <ejray -at- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 22 Sep 1998 13:44:18 -0600

At 11:44 AM 9/22/98 -0700, George Mena wrote:
>The need for tech writers to acquire Web page creation skills and online
>documentation skills are becoming new requirements for their skills
>sets, even though that's . Nonetheless, I truly fear that the continued
>tech writer of the opportunity to work in the true birthplace of
>technical writing: the assembly line.

George, George, George,
Your biases are showing again. (Let me preface this by saying that
I started in tech writing doing hardware (heavy equipment)
documentation, and I probably enjoyed that more than most
computer documentation, however...)

>It's on the assembly line that the following questions are answered:
>* How does this work? (whatever "this" is)
>* Why doesn't it work the way it's supposed to?
>* When I did this instead of that, it worked better. Could you please
>check that for me to verify my results?

It's with a (pardon me) SME that these questions are answered.
Sometimes it's an engineer, sometimes it's an assembly technician,
sometimes it's support personnel, sometimes it's other people.
If there IS an assembly line, it's often (but not always) a way
to answer a question. However, implying that people who don't
have hardware doc experience aren't _real_ tech writers is
pretty self-serving.

>I feel discussing fonts, information mapping and document design pale in
>their relevance when comparing them to educating tech writers.

While I'll grant your underlying point that fonts etc. aren't the
central issues in technical communication, that's not the whole
story. With all due respect, audience analysis, fonts, IM,
document design, eliciting information from SMEs, and effective
communication in all respects are KEY issues for technical
communicators. Each of the examples you mention are
part and parcel of the toolbox of an educated tech writer.
Not the whole thing, but a significant part of it.

Perhaps you've made it this far in your career
with no knowledge of, say, audience analysis or document design.
More likely, you've made it this far with instinctive knowledge of
audience analysis and no need for document design. However,
many others aren't in your position.

>Specifically, I feel a technical writer who's never had to document
>manufacturing and test processes has been shortchanged. I hope this is
>an issue that gets addressed and resolved in both junior college- and
>university-level technical communications certificate and degree
>programs -- and soon! :D

And just what is it about documenting manufacturing processes
that is superior to other kinds of technical communication, particularly
as the demand for those particular experiences aren't nearly as widespread
as for computer or software doc? Why isn't a medical writer or
science writer as good as you are, even without the experience
of standing on an assembly line?

I find the argument about the birthplace of technical
writing interesting, if not compelling. I've yet to find
anyone in the computer industry who suffered as a
result of NOT working in a garage in Palo Alto.
(Financial considerations don't enter this discussion.)
Similarly, other than a rather fluffy and warm-n-fuzzy
sense that one might get from returning to ones
professional roots, I can't see the real value of forcing
anyone into any specific area of technical communication,
nor do I see the intrinsic value of one area over another.

The argument strikes me as quite similar to the
degree vs non-degree war--if you have the
degree or hardware background, it's essential; while
if you don't, it's superfluous. Isn't that the direction
your argument is headed?


Eric J. Ray RayComm, Inc. ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com

*Award-winning author of several popular computer books
*Syndicated columnist: Rays on Computing
*Technology Department Editor, _Technical Communication_

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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