Technical Author | In my opinion

In my opinion

As a technical author, I often hear the phrase “in my opinion”. What that means is a colleague doesn’t trust your judgement and thinks they know better. Some skilled engineers and project managers told me they understand technical authoring better than I do. They consider their documents through rose-coloured spectacles as ‘Good’, leading to a difference in the definition of’ good’. They avoid asking me to review it, but when the boss notices discrepancies, he asks for a second opinion. Cue me and my trained eye. 

After I completed the editing, the document author found his written work and formatting did not make the mark. At best, 4/10 for effort. If you think I am harsh and turn a blind eye and let the occasional error go through, where does that lead us?

I recall an interview I had in Great Missenden. The hiring manager showed me some documents. When I commented about the poor writing, he revealed he wrote them himself. The look on his face said it all. He thought it was a good document. The interview ended for me. But how far does he believe his documentation will go if he cannot listen to criticism? Granted, I forgot about diplomacy when I asked, but I didn’t expect him to be the writer. I expect someone down the company hierarchy to have written documentation when the hiring manager is keen to show me what they have.

The question: how must technical authors handle differences of opinion? And what can managers do to ensure that the technical documentation meets the required standards?

When I critiqued a document, I balanced my professional expertise and interpersonal relationships. Managing this situation requires a combination of diplomacy, clear communication, and a constructive approach. You learn lessons along the way, and years later, I had an approach to handling such situations.

For Technical Authors:

      1. Focus on Collaboration, Not Criticism: Present your feedback as a joint effort to enhance the document’s intended purpose. Position yourself as an ally rather than a critic.
      2. Use Evidence-Based Feedback: Base your feedback on specific technical writing standards, guidelines, or best practices. Make your critique aim rather than personal.
      3. Highlight Strengths First: Start with positive feedback before pointing out areas for improvement. Acknowledging what works well can make the recipient more receptive to constructive criticism.
      4. Offer Solutions, Not Just Problems: Suggest improvements to prevent defensiveness.
      5. Educate on Best Practices: Sometimes, the discrepancy in expectations arises from a need for more awareness. Briefly explaining why we must follow certain practices in technical writing can bridge this gap.
      6. Seek Understanding: Try to understand the author’s original intent with the document. Provide feedback that aligns with their goals while improving the document’s quality.
      7. Choose the Right Medium for Feedback: Avoid misinterpretation by discussing input through in-person calls for immediate clarification and discussion.

For Managers:

      1. Set Clear Standards: Establish and communicate clear standards for technical documentation. Providing templates, style guides, and examples of good documentation can set a clear benchmark.
      2. Facilitate Training: Offer training sessions on technical writing to non-writers. Understanding the basics of good technical writing can improve the initial quality of documents.
      3. Encourage a Culture of Feedback: Promote a culture where feedback is an opportunity for growth, not criticism.
      4. Implement a Review Process: Create a review process to vet documents for quality before finalisation.
      5. Support Technical Authors: Support technical authors, and back them up when challenged by colleagues.
      6. When technical expertise clashes with personal pride, encourage dialogue to mediate conflicts and find a balance.
      7. Recognise and Reward Quality Work: Acknowledge high-quality documentation to prioritise quality in their work.

Technical authors can manage opinions and improve documentation quality by adopting these strategies. Managers can also ensure that the documentation meets the required standards. When people work together, it improves the quality of technical documents and helps projects succeed.

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