Re: Not Sure

Subject: Re: Not Sure
From: "Mike O." <obie1121 -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Sat, 16 Aug 2003 08:36:57 -0700 (PDT)

Andrew Plato wrote:
> Generalist is basically code for "ocean wide, puddle deep."
> In other words, generalists will take a long time to ramp up
> to speed on the technologies, methods, and processes of an
> organization because they don't have a specialized
> well of experience to draw upon.

But this is exactly what many employers think they want in a
tech writer, because the employer does not have experience or
understanding of tech writing.

A lot of tech writing jobs are advertised with generalist duties
even if they don't call them generalists. A company or an
organization will suddenly receive a clue that they need a tech
writer, so they advertise for somebody to write white papers,
API guides, design specs, marketing brochures, take meeting
minutes, and proofread the CEO's email. There are few people who
do all these things well.

At this stage the employer has what I'd call an adolescent
understanding of technical writing - they have strong opinions
and think they know everything about writing, but they really
have no understanding derived from experience. They think the
basic skill is 'writing,' which leads them to trivialize the
writing task and define writing as a background support task
rather than a key development role. Therefore, they seek
ever-cheaper and more junior writers, which creates a
self-fulfilling perception of tech writers as low-skilled

It's only later (if ever) that the employer may develop a more
mature understanding of writing. If their generalist is unable
to create the more technical documents, they may bring in a
consultant. This is a more realistic understanding, where the
employer is forced to recognize that writing is not a trivial
supporting role, but instead is a key development role as a peer
with other developers on the project, requiring separate but
equal skills.

If the writer spends their time with unproductive theorizing,
they are neither a good writer nor a good generalist. Not that I
don't enjoy a good theory now and then :-)

Mike O.

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