Ah, we as Technical Writers deal with this often. Lack of respect. Right?
Although there is often a low simmer of this, I had somewhat forgotten about it because I have been fortunate enough to work with people who either respect what I do or at least pretend to.
Last night, I stepped right back into it. But, I am looking at this in a positive light and think that I might have turned the tides a bit in just one conversation.
I will change names and locations to protect the innocent.
There is a place far, far away in a land that we all imagine is quite beautiful, with friendly people and lovely accents. I will call this wonderful place GoodLand.
Sometime in the past the company I work for acquired a company in GoodLand. I don’t know their history, but for several years they continued to work on their software and although a writer in our department worked “with” them, they controlled the documentation.
The engineers in Goodland are very demanding. If they saw a formatting mistake, they would get quite upset. I work with knowledgeable people who can do much more than copy edit or format documents, and an agreement was made with the people of GoodLand for them to train some of our staff on their product. That was two releases ago.
Here is where the question of whether I earned respect comes in.
Last night, I was asked to help with a project. The request was to insert a new section into a larger document. The section was written by an engineer in Goodland. It contained mostly screenshots and many of them impossible were to read. Also, when there was text, it contained paragraphs of steps. It was difficult to follow.
I reviewed the information, created my plan, and then executed it. When I was finished, I updated the engineer about the work completed, requested original screenshots, and suggested reducing the number of images. I knew I had to tread fairly lightly. This is always tricky. I am an expert. I should be writing the documentation. But, the people in Goodland are used to owning it.
I checked in during my off hours and the reply was not favorable. Because of our time difference, I decided to use messaging software so we could have a conversation. It went something like this:
“Hello Joe. I saw your reply to my comments and wanted to see if you had a few moments to talk.”
We had a discussion about the use of screenshots. He indicated that he did not have time to get new images. I could not access the software (which is not how I typically work). We compromised that I would capture what I could from his original document with the understanding that there might be a decrease in quality.
We had a common goal to reduce support calls and tickets. We agreed that step by step instructions are useful. I explained that using extraneous screenshots, such as for confirmation messages, was not necessary. Using a large number of screenshots makes updates more cumbersome and is difficult for translation.
But, the most concerning is that if you have screenshots in a document that people cannot read and there is no text support, then the document is useless.
He felt very strongly that the only way that the users could understand this complex software was by including screenshots of every step.
Eventually, he wrote: “If you as an “ID” expert wish to rewrite my documentation without images then go for it.”
I had to take several deep breaths. I believe ID in quotes was meant to be demeaning. I am not being sensitive. I am aware of how their group feels about mine.
I let it go.
I told him that I would reduce the number of images, and possibly use portions of screens in some places to ensure they are legible as well. Then, I said thank you and wished him a good day.
Much to my surprise a short while later, he asked if I was still available! He asked a question about how I wanted the new images, so I made some headway. He was taking new screenshots for me.
He then told me that he understands that my job is tough because we deal with multiple projects and have limited budgets. I explained that I do not use that excuse and that I learn my products.
Suddenly, the mood lightened considerably. He began to ask if I wanted his “fancy arrows” in the images. We talked about the image software we each use. And, eventually, we left the conversation with good cheer.
Today, I rewrote the section. I reduced the number of images. I broke the paragraphs into procedures. And, I sent him a note asking him to answer some questions.
I am curious to see where this leads. Did I gain some respect from this engineer? Will he see my work as improving on his? Or, will he be upset with my changes?
I should know in the next few days.
What do you think will happen?