Though often stereotyped, we Technical Communicators are truly NOT all alike. We paint our word pictures using every color of the visible light spectrum. We differ in our tastes, preferences and opinions, just like workers in any other profession. That said, throughout my 15 years in this field, I HAVE noticed a few key similarities among us. Whether we are new writers, lone writers or lead writers, “doc” managers or “pubs” managers, most of us seem to have these three things in common:
Determination: There is no question that our job requires tremendous tenacity. We are often excluded when we should be consulted, ignored when we should be engaged and rushed when we should be respected. Those that succeed in this field are the few who can endure these conditions and press on anyhow.
Detail-Orientation: This is a profession where the details deeply matter! A single incorrect character in a program listing or code sample can cause a data center disaster. The scattered need not apply. Focus is essential. Those who’ve made it in our field either exude this trait, or can turn it on when needed.
Disappointment: This is the area I want to focus on. Like most of you, I’ve both written the copy and made the coffee. I’ve taken the minutes and taken my lumps. I’ve watched Technical Writing managers spend hours soaking up the sadness of their hard-working team members. And I think I know why so many of us are sad.
We work incredibly hard, and under unrealistic time-pressures. We face exacting reviewers, red markup on print-outs and very little peer recognition. Then, after the product ships, we hear … NOTHING. No customer feedback, no metrics showing the result, few awards. What other profession has traditionally received the dearth of feedback that TechComm has encountered? When we wonder how we did, we’re told, “No one reads the manual“. If that’s the case, why did we burn ourselves out to perfect it?
The first two commonalities are character traits, and they serve us well. The last one is a condition, based on circumstance, and it holds us back. With this in mind, I wanted to offer some advice to the Technical Writing managers who read this blog. Don’t keep mopping up sorrow: Cap the leak. Here’s a few ways:
- Give each team member at least one assignment that genuinely inspires them: Even if it’s only 20% of their time, give each writer at least one important long-term assignment to combat the tyranny of the urgent. Something to look forward to drives performance in every aspect of work.
- Implement metrics to show your team who is reading what they write: Purpose is the world’s most efficient fuel source. The knowledge that one’s work is truly helping another is like wind in one’s sails. To realize you are truly making a difference puts a bouncy spring in your step.
- Go to bat for your writers: Actively engage in teaching upper management. Show how important content has become in the social landscape. Explain how your writers are the best resources for responding to the challenges of tomorrow. Explain why techcomm cycles must be invested according to customer needs, not developer preferences.
Your team will continue to be determined and detail-oriented. But they deserve a hearty dose of optimism and hope. By defeating disappointment, we can connect to purpose-driven productivity. Everyone wins.