Re: Are these words being used?

Subject: Re: Are these words being used?
From: "Mark Baker" <mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 9 Nov 1999 16:56:33 -0500

Anthony Markatos wrote

>Teresa Wittel said:
>Some technical writers are not expected to understand the technical subject
>very well. They are expected to just clearly translate what the SME says
>under tight deadlines with little accountability.
>Tony Markatos responds:
>It has been my experience (Tech Writer, QA Analyst, and Systems Analyst,
>Development Project Leader) that, except for simple products, it is
>impossible to "clearly translate what the SME says" without a in-depth
>understanding of the of the product.

Amen to that.

What is more, the SME is not going to say the things that the user needs to
here. The SME is going to say a great deal that the user does not need not
here and is going to leave out a good deal that the user does need to here.

The SME is only going to say what the user needs to here under close
questioning from a competent and well informed technical communicator.

Technical communicators can only ask those questions if they have a thorough
knowledge of the users tasks and they will only have such knowledge if they
understand the technology at least as well as an expert user.

The problem with engineers is not that they can't write. Most of them write
quite well. The problem is that most of them don't know what users need to
be told.

The tech writer's job is to develop both product knowledge and user
knowledge, so as to know what the user needs to be told. Writing skill per
se is secondary. Most of the writing is pretty mechanical anyway. Ordinary
competence in English prose will suffice for most tech writing tasks.

At best, translating SME's yields clear and readable statements of the wrong
information. The wrong thing done well is still the wrong thing.

(Unless, of course, the SME really does understand what the user needs to be
told, in which case translation by a technically naive writer will almost
certainly do more harm than good.)

Mark Baker
Senior Technical Communicator
OmniMark Technologies Corporation
1400 Blair Place
Gloucester, Ontario
Canada, K1J 9B8
Phone: 613-745-4242
Fax: 613-745-5560
Email mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com

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