Re: TECHWR-L Digest - 6 Jan 1995 to 7 Jan 1995

Subject: Re: TECHWR-L Digest - 6 Jan 1995 to 7 Jan 1995
From: "Dana B. Mackonis, I are a writer, DTN 381-1283" <maconis -at- SUPER -dot- ENET -dot- DEC -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 8 Jan 1995 13:32:05 EST

RE: Covert Interviews

Having a programming background and working as a Project Leader for 11 years
before switching to Tech Writing (8 years) has been a big help to me in
working with Engineers.

What I usually do is introduce myself to each engineer and SME as soon as I
get on the project. If I can't do it in person, I send e-mail. I try to set
up a time - at their convenience - to explain to them what I feel my job as
a writer is and to express to them what I expect from them in return and try
and find out what they expect from me in return as well. I try to explain that
the audience of the document is not always as well versed in their product as
they are (you would be surprised at how many engineers don't take this into

I then ask how they would like to work with me. Is it easier for them to talk
to me once a week, on demand, or would they prefer that I email them questions
that they can respond to at their leisure. Many engineers feel uncomfortable
at having to provide "on the spot" answers and the majority of them have
preferred to answer written questions when they have a few minutes on their

When I need a product demo, or something like that, I take a micro cassette
recorder with me so that I don't slow them down as I write. I also remind them
to give their demos to me on the basis that I know nothing about how their
product works - this gives me enough room to ask questions and be sure I
haven't missed anything important. How many times have we all sat in on demos
that have seemed perfectly clear and then when we review our notes we find a
very important step missing - something very clear to the engineer because he
knows his subject inside out and may have taken a short cut to get from step
A to Step C.

I have been lucky to only have one SME that was virtually impossible to work
with. He used to blow up in my face when I asked questions about certains
areas of his project. I later found out, it was areas he did not program or
handle himself and did not have an answer to. Being very young, he found it
impossible to say the words, "I don't know, let me find out for you". Instead
he found it easier to insult my intelligence for asking a question. When I
found this out, I worked around it by asking for a pointer to someone who had
worked with this area. The temper tantrums slowed over time.


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