Re: Information anxiety

Subject: Re: Information anxiety
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- FS -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Wed, 17 Dec 1997 16:31:17 +0800

Geoff Hart said:
> Normal people (as opposed to me) specialize in each of these
> fields, and have full-time jobs just maintaining expertise in
> these fields. Let's not even mention the need to keep up with
> all the new tools that each field requires.

The bad news is that we can't be expert at everything. The good news
is that you don't need to be an expert at everything, so don't try.

If we specced out an ideal technical writer, think of the skills they
would need: writing, indexing, illustration, research, interviewing,
audience analysis, user-centred design, document design, graphic
design, Web page design, usability testing, layout, typography, DTP
software, HTML, online help, baking, programming. . .

Many of these are full-time occupations in themselves. Even if you
managed to become an expert indexer or illustrator, if you didn't
practise these skills full-time they would become rusty.

The answer is to try to be expert at the core skills of your job, and
to be competent at the others as required. It would be nice in many
ways to use specialists, but if you don't have the budget you have to
do the best you can in the time you have.

When I'd been a TW for a year or two I still didn't know the first
thing about most of these skills. I realised I needed to produce much
better indexes than the half-day jobs I'd been doing. I read Nancy
Mulvany's 'Indexing Books', subscribed to the INDEX-L list, pestered
Lori Lathrop with questions, and generally immersed myself in indexing
in whatever free time I had for a couple of months. Then I went on to
other things.

I don't kid myself that that makes me a good indexer. (A wise man once
said, "After learning the tricks of the trade, don't think you know the
trade.") I'm an adequate indexer, and that's good enough for now. If
I ever need to do harder/bigger/better indexes, I have a sound base
from which to start.

The same has happened with other skills, like typography, FrameMaker,
illustration, UI design. I become interested, then immersed, then
emerge a while later as if waking from a fever.

We are professional dilettantes, and a good thing too. If I were a
writer bee in a hive full of layout bees and illustrator bees and
indexer bees, I wouldn't love coming to work as much as I do.

Stuart Burnfield "Specialization is for insects."
Functional Software Pty Ltd -- Robert Heinlein
mailto:slb -at- fs -dot- com -dot- au, or

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