Re: What is a documentation specialist? (Was: What is a document?)

Subject: Re: What is a documentation specialist? (Was: What is a document?)
From: Maurice King <benadam -at- CYBERDUDE -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 11 Mar 1999 10:16:05 -0500

Ben Kovitz raised a very important point in mentioning that it is not just the word "document" that has a rather vague definition to many people. One job description that I frequently encounter is "documentation specialist," and this name is given to so many different disciplines that it is easy to be misled.

When I first returned to the United States, I applied for a position described as "documentation specialist," only to discover that it was an administrative position that had nothing to do with technical writing. I later took a job in which I was given the job title "documentation specialist," but what I did was quite
different. As it turns out, the vagueness of the job description concealed the fact that the company employing me also wasn't really sure of its needs. They saw a "documentation specialist" as a person who could validate data, not to write and edit documents. I agree that if a technical writer has been on board for a long period of time, he/she can probably validate data for
a very specific project, but to ask a newcomer to validate highly technical, project-specific data when that person has many other duties that are required immediately is, to my mind, an unreasonable demand. Since that time, I shy away from any job with the title "documentation specialist," even though many times the description indicates that a technical writer is needed.

Let us not forget that "documentation" also refers to programmers' notes written in the code of applications. I've gone to jobs where they asked me if I could read code and document the software code. Programmers often refer to such documentation as "comments," even though this documentation is documentation in every sense. However, the fact that the same word can be overused adds to confusion; even though I could document code, I would not necessarily want to do it day after day as a full-time job.

If there is anything to learn from this discussion, it is to alert technical writers to ask specific questions about the nature of a job and the required documentation even before going to an interview; if each party is giving a different meaning to the same words, the result will be very much like the scene in Murder By Death in which the blind butler talks to the deaf maid.

- Maury

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