Re: SMEs and me

Subject: Re: SMEs and me
From: Tom Murrell <trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2000 11:32:41 -0700 (PDT)

--- Sierra Godfrey <kittenbreath -at- hotbot -dot- com> wrote:
> How often do SMEs give you their write-up of a manual, or at least the
> information, before you start on your work? Would you say that this is a
> common thing to happen?

I wouldn't say it is common, but it isn't uncommon either. Here my SMEs have
all tried their hand at documentation writing, unfortunately. Fortunately, they
don't consider themselves writers, so when I make changes, they don't
complain...much. <g>

> If you do have experience with SMEs giving you their information in what they
> think is a manual (or other output) format, how much liberty do you take to
> change it into readable and digestible information (what we all are trained
> to do as technical writers)?

I take all the liberties needed to whip the documentation into proper shape.
That's what they pay me to do.

> This goes back to an earlier post about the engineer here infecting my mind
> with his propaganda. I ask the questions above because I'm catching a lot of
> flack now from him for formatting his information (with much addition of my
> own research) into a user manual, different from the way he originally wrote
> it. He didn't want anything changed.

Sounds like you need to go back over the ground rules with him, his boss, and
your boss. In your place, my goal would be to understand what is expected of
me. Am I to act as Technical Writer for this documentation? Or am I to be this
SME's personal copy editor? If the latter, what, exactly, am I expected to do,
and what, exactly, am I forbidden to do?

Having ascertained that (and frankly, I'm looking for support for the work I
have done. I'm not looking for the SME's position to be supported.) then I can
determine whether or not I still want the work. This position holds true for me
whether I'm a contractor or employee. If I don't want to do the job I'm being
asked to do, I give notice and leave. If I stay, I do what I'm paid to do, even
if I don't like it much. Happens.

> And while we're at it, how often do you have the problem of just being about
> to send the manual off to the printer and then being told you can't because
> there are so many changs to be made suddenly by the SME? What do you do other
> than stress out?

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Technical Writing. What you need to learn is
to NOT stress out. Changes happen. They are outside of your control. Just make
sure everyone knows why the schedule was blown (the SME made late changes),
then pick up where you make the changes as needed and try to move to print
again. (Before going to print, it would be a good idea to get a sign-off from
all reviewers, SMEs and otherwise, so that there are no last minute changes as
you are going to press. With a sign-off, you don't go to press until everyone
signs off. Again, make sure the powers that be know you didn't blow the
schedule, the SMEs, or whoever, didn't sign off.)

Tom Murrell
Senior Technical Writer
Alliance Data Systems
Columbus, Ohio
mailto:trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com

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