Re: Don't believe the offshore hype?

Subject: Re: Don't believe the offshore hype?
From: "Chuck Martin" <cm -at- writeforyou -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 9 Mar 2004 14:54:18 -0800

"Geoff Hart" <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca> wrote in message news:231531 -at- techwr-l -dot- -dot- -dot-
> I suspect that many Indian authors, who have grown up fluently
> bilingual in English as a second language, will be every bit our equal
> in writing good English, but will still need help polishing off the
> rough edges. And some Indian (and other foreign) authors will be every
> bit as incompetent as some of the people here in North America who
> claim to be technical writers. That only goes to show that managers and
> the people who work for them don't differ all that much around the
> world: Dilbert is by no means exclusively a North American phenomenon.
I'm not sure if this is a disagreement or an echo, but good writing skills
do not equate to good technical writing skills.

I will offer, however, a single data point. I'm currently on a contract
where I'm tasked with updating a User Guide for a web-based application.
Some previous work was done on this document, and apparently that work had
been outsourced to India.

The English in the document is quite good. As a usable User Guide, however,
the document is atrocious.

It doesn't help that the application design mimics the functional
specifications. However, the User Guide that I inherited has the following

- A section for each role a user can log in as.
- A chapter for each area of the user interface.
- Each heading in a chapter contains a description of one page: a screen
capture, a table listing all the fields and too-brief descriptions of the
field contents, and a bulleted list of some of the tasks that can be done on
the page.
- A single index page (the document is 150-200 pages long, hard to know for
sure because it uses section-page page numbering).

I've been able to reuse small chunks of existing conceptual material, but
have had to expand on that material, as well as identify all possible user
tasks and write procedures (from scratch) for each one. I just finished one
chapter, on one topic/concept, where I'd identified more than two dozen
discrete user tasks and documented all of them, and for each making sure
users had the information they needed at each step to make the right

This in the context of a situation where I wasn't even given the User Guide
until I walked in the door. (I had asked for it the week earlier, when I was
hired, and it was promised to me several times and not delivered, so I could
begin a review of the work that was needed.) After review, I calculated that
there was about two solid months of work--and just one month until the
hard-and-fast deadline. So I had to prioritize the areas of the document
that users would most benefit from getting updated. (I also put together a
schedule that I termed "very aggressive," with the expectation that to meet
it I'd be working weekends to catch up.)

Again, this is but one data point, but I think it illustrates the difference
between a "writer" and a "technical writer," and why the two are not
synonymous. I'd love to put together a "before" and "after" presentation to
illustrate, but I'm not sure many managers, especially the Dilbert-esque
ones, would understand anyway.

OK, back to work.

Chuck Martin
User Assistance & Experience Engineer
twriter "at" sonic "dot" net

"I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. The day
may come when the courage of Men fail, when we forsake our friends and
break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day! This day, we fight!"
- Aragorn

"All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you."
- Gandalf


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don't believe the offshore hype: From: Wright, Lynne

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