Re: Value of technical writers - Sorry, boss is (mostly) right

Subject: Re: Value of technical writers - Sorry, boss is (mostly) right
From: Tom <eagles -at- CONNECTION -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 31 Dec 1998 01:11:32 -0500

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Andrew Plato
> Sent: December 29, 1998 9:22 PM
> Subject: Value of technical writers -
> Sorry, boss is (mostly) right
>> "It's difficult to rank technical writers along
>> with Engineers, because people who go
>> into tech writing and QA are usually
>> people who tried to be Engineers and failed.
> Your boss is correct in some regards.
> Many writers are writers
> because they aspire no further.

The President of the United States is the
President because he aspires no further. Jesus
Christ is God (indulge me) because he aspires no

Must we have ambitions that exceed our current

> Now, some writers actually break out of
> this mold and become
> technology experts as well

And this would automatically make them more
valuable. I don't know many good tech writers who
are NOT technology experts. In fact, I would
venture to say that it's prerequisite to tech
writing to have the ability to learn new
technologies and absorb (if only at a rudimentary
level) the knowledge needed to document whatever
product your company or client sells.

>> Also, Engineers can keep learning and
>> advancing in their field, but technical
>> writers have no where to go or new
>> things to learn."
> This is essentially true.

As Kyle's mom on South Park once said:

HTML help systems, Acrobat, PageMaker, Chicago
Style Guide, MS Style Guide and on and on -
nothing to learn? Nowhere to go? Software,
engineering, government services, contracting, and
countless other industries. Sheesh.

> Tech writing
> has not changed much in the
> past 10 years...<snip>
> apart from a few new
> tools, on-line help, and some
> interactive medias... <snip>

What you've listed above could fill volumes on
"what has changed in the last 10 years."

> Moreover, what has absolutely remained
> the same over the past decade
> is that the majority of writers obsess
> over tools and techniques while
> never focusing on the technologies they
> are documenting.

How can you NOT focus on the technologies you're
documenting? You learn what you're documenting to
the extent that you need to in order to document
it. Learning it to expert level is a pointless
waste of time if your next project has NOTHING to
do with that "technology." If, OTOH, you're
talking about learning programming languages for
the sake of learning "new technologies," then how
are they technologies, while FrameMaker is a
"tool?" And what, exactly, is a "technique" in the
above context?

> This is why
> most writers have no where to advance.

Well, what is advancement? Management? Manager of
Communications? Manager of Technical
Communication? Communications Coordinator (my
current title)? Who cares about titles? Just let
me write.

> Once they learn a few tools
> and techniques and then keep
> re-learning the same tools and techniques
> over and over again.

Either they are thick-headed, or they are
engineers aspiring to be technical writers. <vbg>

> I know writers
> who have been to on-line help
> seminars 10 or 20 times. Sheesh, how
> much training in on-line help do
> you need? It isn't that flippin' hard.

See above. Maybe they just like time away from the
office. Don't engineers and "technology experts"
go on seminars and courses?

> If writers started focusing more on the
> technologies they are
> documenting and less on the tools they
> use, your boss's opinions on
> tech writers might change.

That's precisely the mindset that has to be erased
if tech communication is to be recognized as a
profession and respected for its contribution,
rather than tolerated as a necessary evil. Show
'em the four page, illegible instruction set that
came with the toy made in Taiwan. Then show 'em
the well written manual (any well written manual).
That should be enough to convince anyone that tech
writers need to be properly valued.

> In comparison, software design and
> development has dramatically
> changed in the past 10 years. Entire
> new languages have risen and
> fallen in the past 10 years.

So? See above. If the "entire new language" is
gone already, then why waste time learning it or
something else that will be gone? Are you a
programmer or a tech writer? IMHO, you have to
decide which you want to be.

> Unfortunately, your boss's views of
> writers are what many managers
> think. I hate to say this,
> because I know this
> irritates a lot of people, but
> most non-tech writers find tech writers
> brittle, small-minded, and
> generally less skilled than engineers.

Okay, we all speak from experience, and there's no
point in starting a flame war... but, how can you
generalize about tech writers and non-tech
writers? If there is a perception of the value of
tech writers at certain companies that is
reflected in what you say, then perhaps those
companies aren't worth working for... unless their
attitudes can be changed.

> Why do you think Scott Adams
> paints Tina the Technical Writer as a
> short tempered, brittle person?

Actually, I see her as insightful and as much an
illuminator of the small-minded simpletons she
works for/with as Dilbert himself.

> When tech writing becomes a profession
> focused on technology and
> content

When? Isn't it already? Hasn't it always been?
Technologies come and go. The skills needed to
document them are the skills tech writers have and
acquire as needed. Obsessing on a particular
technology is as counter-productive as any
obsession (other than my obsession with brown-eyed
brunettes, of course).

> maybe then the perceptions of
> co-workers and managers will
> change. Until then, all I can say is
> "deal with it." This is why I
> left tech writing for consulting.

"Deal with it." All that and all we get is "deal
with it."



Tom Eagles.
eagles -at- connection -dot- com

old motto: "those who can, do...
those who can't, write."

new motto: "deal with it."

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

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