Responses to Tech Writer in Corporate Communications Dept. (Long)

Subject: Responses to Tech Writer in Corporate Communications Dept. (Long)
From: Jon Herrera <jonherrera -at- YAHOO -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 18 Feb 1999 10:19:46 -0800

I ask to "hear from any tech communicators who work or have
worked in a Corporate Communications department. How is it different
from working in an Engineering department? What are the positive and
negative aspects?"

Thanks to the following people for responding:Tom Eagles, Rene Seigh,
Melonie Holliman, Geoff Hart, Marj Hermansen-Eldard, and Chuck Fite.

Here's a compilation of responses:

The differences are like night and day. The type of writing you'll do
(more marketing-oriented), the variety of projects and the range of
staff you'll need to use as SMEs adds to the contrast. However, some
people (and I'm one) like it better than the dry technical user docs.

---

I worked for a month in my old company's marketing group. I had always
worked in engineering before. I didn't like it, but that was just me.
What I saw was:

The writing was more creative, more fluff than substance.
The slant of the writing was persuasive instead of informational.
It was more difficult to get the information because I was often
writing about products while they were still only a gleam in a
developer's eye.
And the developer's were in another part of the company, not as
accessible.

I got to use the new PC version of Quark Express to create
graphics. There
were more "pretty" eye-catching graphics. Sentences and paragraphs
were even shorter to try to capture attention.

Of course, in Corporate Communications, you might be doing some things
like employee newsletters and handbooks. I didn't have to work on
those, just marketing literature.
I tried not to make this discouraging, just factual. I had a bad
experience, so that probably contributed to any negativity that
filters through this e-mail. It all depends on what you want to do and
where you want your career to go. Hope this helps!

---

I started my career in corporate communications. I left the company to
work at another for awhile. Now I am back working in an Engineering
department. I do see some differences at this company.

Corporate is broader (know a little about a lot of products) where
engineering is deeper (know a lot about a few products). Corporate is
a service department which means it is a bit under appreciated and a
bit more political.

Engineering has bigger shake ups as products come and go.

I enjoyed my time in corporate and learned a lot about the publishing
industry. Now, I am learning more about the products themselves and
the product industry.

---

The biggest single difference is that your audience is entirely
different, and there are a whole host of legal, ethical, and
diplomatic issues you have to confront when you're doing that kind of
writing. Make a really big effort to ensure you understand the
specific legal, ethical, and diplomatic issues for your company's
operating context, and make sure you understand the new audience well
enough to understand how to write to them.
The second biggest difference is that Corporate Communications people
are even more alien forms of life than Engineers, particularly if they
include those who worship the dark side of the force (i.e., the
marketing group). <g> Compared with engineers, these people have
entirely different perceptions of what's important, and thus different
preoccupations; the office politics can be an awful lot more
convoluted and treacherous (among other things, because they're closer
to senior management than you used to be, and the Dilbert principle
begins to apply); and they dress equally funny and may expect you to
do the same. <g x 2> I've worked with a spectrum of this sort of
communicator, and though I've really enjoyed some of the work and some
of the people, I've also met more than my share of cretins in the
field. YMMV, and I hope it does.

---

At least from my personal experience, there are good and bad things
about Corp. Comm. departments.
The good: generally speaking there's lots of money to spend! (For
things like tools, equipment, conferences, training, etc.)
The bad: Lots of politics, politicing, and mind games. . .

---

I currently work in a Corporate Communications department (Corporate
Marketing
and Technical Communications, actually). As you suspect, it has both
positive
and negative aspects. What is potentially good is that you are part
of a
community of writers with whom you can interact. You have the
opportunity to set
style guidelines and other documentation standards for the entire
organization.
And, hopefully, you have a manager who really understands what you
contribute
and the frustrations you face (preferably one who has been a technical
writer).

Now the down side. In my company (and in many others I suspect), the
Corporate
Communications Department is a service organization. We are treated
much like
contractors for the various product areas. Most tech writing teams in my
department are not even physically located with the product areas they
service,
making communication with the technical people troublesome. Even on my
team,
where we are located with the product area and where we are a part of
each
project team, I still feel like we are treated as outsiders.

But probably the worst part of my situation is that the product area
has too
much control over the documentation. We do have a manager that will
stand up for
us (which is absolutely necessary), but unfortunately that manager has
never
been a technical writer and doesn't really understand (or consider
important)
the distinction between an acceptably written document and a truly
user-friendly
manual or help system.

Thus in summary, the most important thing to evaluate is the
management. If your
manager knows tech writing, he or she is better able to argue
effectively
against the often bad ideas coming from the Development managers. If
not, you
might as well be working for those Development managers because
they'll be
calling the shots anyway.

---
Thanks again to all those who responded. Your responses will help me
make an informed decision regarding this position.

Jon Herrera
jonherrera -at- yahoo -dot- com





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