Re: About responsibility and fault

Subject: Re: About responsibility and fault
From: Andrew Plato <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 6 Apr 2003 17:46:36 -0700 (PDT)

"Bonnie Granat" <> wrote

> I agree that writers are responsible for their work. What I'm suggesting is
> that in some circumstances, they are forced to create documentation with
> errors, often with the "blessing" of management.

Then how is that an error?

Truth is a relative concept. Just because you, personally, disagree with your
employer's methods, technologies, or designs, doesn't mean they are wrong. What
you see as errors may very well be correct.

> In some companies, writers are let off the hook because management knows it
> has not established documentation as a part of the product itself. That's a
> management decision. When access is denied to information by management, or
> when management does not exert its influence to make information available,
> writers often just do the best they can.

There is an assumption in this argument that the writer is utterly powerless to
get this information. One of my contentions with Jeff was that if you view
yourself as powerless, then you really will be powerless and at the mercy of
others to get your job done.

> I think most writers will admit making mistakes in documentation. I'm saying
> what others have said already: Sometimes it is not possible to create
> error-free documentation.

Its never possible to create error-free docs. Errors are normal. That's not the
point. The point is accepting responsibility for those errors.

> It's really a management question, I think.

No, it isn't. Managers may be responsible for hiring the wrong people, setting
the wrong schedules, buying the wrong server, and other managerial issues. But
the accuracy of a document rests squarely on a writer's shoulders.

> Technical writers should not have to cajole, assert, romance, or do anything
> other than perform their jobs professionally. Befriending a developer so that
> a writer gets information is unprofessional. Management's job is to make sure
> that everybody has what he or she needs to do his or her job. Anything short
> of that is bad management.

Sheesh, maybe the manager should just write the docs too. I mean with these
criteria, why even hire a writer?

Managers are not going to wet-nurse writers. Management's job is to see that
groups have direction. And part of that aspect is ensuring resources and tasks
are delegated properly. A manager is not responsible for making sure a
technical writer has every last chunk of information he/she needs. That is

The whole concept behind "professionalism" is that a person has risen to a
point with a particular skill, that they can be trusted to handle the details
of that job. They don't need a lot of hand-holding from supervisors or

What you're describing Bonnie is more akin to clerks and typists.
Non-professional, low-skill positions where there is minimal expectation of
self-direction. These are jobs where a supervisor must handle all the details,
and the workers just do exactly what they are told to do. In such a situation,
I would agree with you that management is responsible for making sure that each
clerk has the tools he/she needs to complete his/her tasks.

But this is not how companies treat skilled professionals. As a skilled writer,
I don't want to be seen as just a grunt that needs constant direction setting.
There is an expectation that people with a certain level of skill and
experience can take care of themselves. They don't need to be babied and

Therefore, the more responsible, dependable, and adaptable a writer is, the
more likely they will earn the professional respect of peers and co-workers.
The less responsible, dependable, and adaptable a writer is, the more likely
they will lose professional respect.

Blame is the product of unprofessionalism. Blame is about shirking
responsibility. Its an attempt to justify failures. Failure is not a bad thing.
And the largest difference between pros and amateurs is how they handle
failure. A pro sees failure as a chance to learn, grow, and improve. An amateur
sees failure as a chance to blame, justify, and excuse.

Andrew Plato

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