The perception of our profession

Last week a colleague of mine, help Tom Johnson, viagra 40mg shared with me an e-mail he received from somebody in our organization. There was to be a large meeting to hash out all the details surrounding a new project. In the message that contained the meeting rationale, the organizer included this gem:

I will be getting a technical writer in the room to help us document these things. I anticipate the individual for the most part taking dictation.

It’s rather galling that a project manager would begin a two-day meeting to document the processes of creating a new project, and that they would expect the technical writer to take dictation of the meeting. They don’t anticipate that the writer will be able to help add to the discussion or provide any insightful input. But, hey, they can sure take notes and distribute them to everybody after the meeting so the rest of the attendees won’t have to pay attention to the meeting.

Thankfully this is only one project manager among many, and not all our PMs have the same “high” opinion of technical writers in general. But it makes me wonder, how do we improve the overall perception of our profession? Will certification accomplish that? What steps have you taken in your work to improve how others view technical writing as a whole?

How would you have responded (professionally, of course) to the PM who sent that message?

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6 Responses to The perception of our profession

  1. Phil March 21, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    I would argue that it does not matter how many certifications we have, what level of education we hold, nor how many years of experience we have in the industry. What is important is how we prove our worth in situations such as these. It is vital that we continually show our worth and knowledge by offering, in the appropriate manner, the type of feedback and inputs that show we know our stuff beyond just tech writing.

    As we know as tech writers, the writing portion is just a small portion of our actual work. We are often times the unsung architects of project governance processes, design specifications, and other development and project documentation as well as and on top of performing our “regular” duties of creating user materials, help systems, training materials, and other sundry products.

    Because of the more, shall we say, cerebral nature of our work, it is often difficult for PMs to view tech writers as more than expensive secretaries. Our names are not the first names on the authorship line. We are often not included in the meetings and discussions that direct the project life cycle, yet we are the ones who, through our years of work and experience, have a huge repository of valuable information from all segments of project life.

    We have to bring this wealth of knowledge to light. The best way to do this is through repeated demonstration of the depth of this knowledge in these public forums, such as project kick off meetings. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. The education, certification, and resume are just pieces of paper.

    As for how I would have responded to the PM? I would have sent a private message and just asked if he/she had any problem with me providing input during the meeting, if appropriate, thus placing the bug in his/her ear that I might be something more than just someone to take notes; setting the expectation that I have more to provide to the discussion and then meeting that expectation.

  2. paul March 21, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    Phil,

    Thanks for the great feedback! You’ve provided some keen insight, and a good suggestion for dealing with such situations.

  3. Sue M March 21, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    I’d respectfully remind them that I’m not a secretary.

    Yeesh.

  4. Shweta Hardikar March 21, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    I would attend the meeting and share my insights. Instead of arguing or even trying to convice a person with words, we can do it from our actions. And then again, no harm in taking minutes of the meeting if we are making other contributions.

  5. Scott March 22, 2011 at 5:06 am #

    That only happened to me once. I was pulled into a development or planning meeting for a new project at the last minute. The QA manager commented that I was there to take notes. Wrong thing to say.

    I piped in and said (through gritted teeth) that while I’d gladly do that it’s not the best use of my time (I’m a contractor, paid by the hour). I also said that if they needed me to put forward ideas for the documentation that the project needs, I’d do that. Which, I added, was a better use of my time.

  6. John Waite March 22, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    I think making sure that PMs (and their managers) know exactly what you have done for projects is important as well. I spent quite a while documenting some complex web navigation systems for a client that took me quite a while to wrap my head around. After the project was done, I handed off the final product to the PM. In a meeting with his manager four months later, his boss told us that if we had questions on this system that we should ask his staff who was well versed in it.

    The boss didn’t realize that all the answers they were giving him had come from our team of tech writers who had taken the time to document and understand the process. These full-time employees were still relying heavily on our team of contractors to give them the answer.

    And when it comes down to it, I don’t think that the other project managers have the time to learn this process.

    The PMs have recognized our technical expertise (or even just the mental gymnastics required for our job), but we need to make sure that others do as well.

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