Friday, July 04, 2008

Who is a Successful Technical Writer?

I have been talking to a very senior technical writer recently. I asked her who according to her is a successful technical writer. She said, “A successful technical writer is a star in the eyes of the development team, meets quality and time parameters, and conforms to the common rules and regulations of the organization”. A star in the eyes of the development team? Would not being a star among her peers and immediate manager be a wiser prospect for a technical writer?

“No”, explained my senior writer friend. She continued, “This is because in most cases, a tech writer must have her work validated by a developer. If the developer is happy, the person might send a note of appreciation to the writer and also cc the writer’s manager. So you see the writer not only buys brownie points with the geek God, but also impresses her manager – all in one shot”.

“When a developer finds the technical writing content of high quality, he/she is left with more time to do value additions on the doc as opposed to making the document technically correct. Some time strapped developers might do no value addition, yet appreciate the writer as they could safely return the document to the writer and feel secure about the technical accuracy of the content. And when external stakeholder are happy, it bodes well for the entire techinal publication team as well and documentation managers love that.”

“And what if the writer’s work involves no interaction with the technical team?” I asked. “In that case, the writer’s work must derive a direct benefit to the company, for example, a well written proposal should help the company close deals”.

“So the idea is to attract positive feedback”, I said trying to get her right. “Exactly! The idea is not only to do things to attract positive feedback, but also convert the feedback into rewards!

“How”? I asked. She said, “Look, when you receive positive feedback from stakeholders (people who directly or indirectly benefit from your work), you can use these feedbacks to back up your ratings during appraisals. So if you have rated yourself 4/5, you can justify your ratings with the feedback you have received – simply copy and paste the feedback into the appraisal form and see them turn into raises and bonuses”.

I said, “All these sound too good and almost convincing, but how do I attract positive feedback from developers?

The lady continued, “Well to start with get down and dirty with technology”. Ask questions, even stupid dumb ones, but ask. You might receive those what-a-moron stares initially. But continue asking until you make sense of what the technology is all about. Draw the big picture and place the finer details within the picture as you go along. Work with the applications, talk technology, and buy those dummy guides if need be. Be persistent!

I interrupted, “ How do I know I am being persistent, that I am learning things”? She said, “Look out for the questions you ask. As you learn more, you will ask smarter questions, more specific questions as opposed to open-ended ones. For instance, instead of asking what is PeopleSoft HRMS is all about, you might find yourself asking how are job profiles set up in PeopleSoft HRMS?”

“So, to be a successful technical writer, I have to ask the right questions and please my developers”, I concluded. “Nope” she corrected. “To be a successful technical writer, you have to not fear technology and be always eager and hungry for more information, better still if you make up your mind to master the technology. “Hold on! I said. She was working me up too fast. “But what if I am not in a product company, but working for a project company where technology changes all the time”. She said, “Chances are that if you master .NET, for example, you will also better understand how other programming languages work, say Java, Pearl, or Cold Fusion.

So the key is not to fear technology but master it! A good technical writer should be able to replace a product manager or a developer any day. Intrigued, I continued, “And what about the other two - quality and time parameters and conformance to the common rules and regulations of the organization”. “Lets keep that for another day, Joy, I really have to rush now”. I can’t wait for that another day.

No comments:

Resolving PDF Problems!

You need to send that PDF file by close of business to your product manager/SME and the file won't just print. What do you do?

Listed here is a set of common PDF issues and solutions:

Pain: When you right-click a Microsoft Office file to convert to Adobe PDF, the application returns the message, "Missing PDFMaker files," and does not create an Adobe PDF file.

Solution: Remove Adobe PDF from the Disabled Items list in the Microsoft Office application.
To manage your Disabled Items list in a Microsoft Office application:
1. Open the Microsoft Office application (Word, Excel, Publisher).
2. Choose Help > About [the application name].
3. Click Disabled Items.
4. Select Adobe PDF from the list, and clickEnable.
5. Quit the Microsoft Office application, and then restart it.

If the error message continues to appear after you enable Adobe PDF, then check the security level for macros in Word:
1. Choose Tools > Macro > Security.
2. In the Security dialog, click the Security tab.
3. Choose Medium or High.
4. Do one of the following:
-- If you chose Medium, then click OK.
-- If you chose High, then continue with steps 5 through 7.
5. Click the Trusted Publishers tab.
6. Check Trust all installed add-ins and templates.
7. Click OK.

PDFMaker and the right-click context menu should function again.

For more, see

Pain: Images look fine in MS Word, but after converting to PDF, image quality is poor.

Solution: Save your image in JPG or TIFF format and embed the image into your Word document to publish using Adobe PDF printer. PNGs are not suitable for word to PDF conversion, TIFFS work much better. Use high quality print setting while converting to PDF. Also, standardize the resolution settings of your desktop (1024*768) and the DPI setting in your screen capture software.

Watch this space for more!

IBN Top Headlines


Search the Web:

Need more targeted traffic?
Join TrafficSwarm for FREE!