HELP! Negativity towards the techwhirler!

Subject: HELP! Negativity towards the techwhirler!
From: Jennifer Kraus <jlkraus -at- AMETEKWATER -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 3 Apr 1997 10:29:47 -0600

I'm encountering some negativity towards technical writing at work, and I'm looking for advice/opinions about the situation. First of all, I've recently graduated with a degree in tech writing and have been working for a company for a little over 2 months. My company manufactures water filtration equipment for industrial, wholesale, and retail markets. We're coming out with a new retail line in late fall, which necessitates all new packaging and some standard changes to the manuals/product literature. The product manager/marketing manager have schedule a release of the new packaging to a major distributor before the actual new products will be ready to ship (so they'll be shipping the old products in new boxes.) The changes to the products are primarily aesthetic; for all intents and purposes (got it right this time!) the installation and usage will remain the same.

So here's my dilemma. I was given the manuals to edit for certain standard changes so that the graphics department could then make those changes and send them to the printer. My theory is that with a new line coming out, it would also be a good time to revamp the manuals, which were prepared by my predecessor in this position. They're not bad necessarily, but they would definitely benefit by some editing/rewriting for consistency, organization, and some general careless writing. For example, the filter cartridges that are placed in the filter housings are sometimes referred to as filters, sometimes as cartridges, and sometimes as filter cartridges. Likewise, the filter housings are sometimes referred to as housings, sometimes as filter housings, sometimes as filters. And mistakes like these are fairly common throughout the manuals. Our retail line is sold primarily to do-it-yourselfers with varying degrees of knowledge about plumbing, and these ambiguities can breed confusion; as part of my job I help take technical phone calls during peak hours and I've seen it happen.

So I thoroughly edited and revised the manuals for the six stand-alone filter housings in the retail line; by doing them all together it helped me to maintain consistency amongst them. Each manual runs about 4 pages bilingual with illustrations; the type is 10 pt Helvetica narrow, with English and Spanish directly opposite each other on half pages. So not only is it extremely hard to read, but small changes screw up the layout in PageMaker and are tedious to make. So when I presented the changes I had made, I walked right into a big crab-fest. Marketing says that since the initial necessary changes must be made by May, there isn't enough time for graphics to labor over the other changes I made; my changes will have to be made later. The graphics department (3 people) is then crabbing about having to do the manuals twice. And overall, I get this impression that both parties think the changes I want to make aren't really necessary...kind of a "well, it looks fine to me" attitude. My manager is all for improving the existing documentation, but because he's in the technical department and Graphics and marketing aren't, his opinion doesn't hold a whole lot of clout. The translator I work with is very supportive of my efforts, and she says I should just put my foot down and say, "this needs to be done," but since I'm fairly new, I'm not sure whether that's overstepping my bounds. I also have a big problem with the readability of the manuals, but since that would require completely new layouts, I know I'd receive A LOT of resistance.

So (yes, there is an end to this) I guess I would appreciate any advice I can get on this matter. How has everyone dealt with similar situations? As a new employee, am I expecting too much that my recommendations be accepted without question? I know the previous technical writer put out some shoddy work towards the end of his tenure, but I don't think it's fair that my position be devalued because of his lack of workmanship. And, on the whole, I am very happy with this company. In general, the work environment is great and the staff very supportive; in this instance, I've walked into some previous animosity/communications problems between marketing and graphics. Any help/advice will be appreciated.


Jennifer Kraus
Technical Writer/Web administrator
Sheboygan, WI

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