Working with Large Writing Groups

How do you get a large group of people to write well together? This is challenge that my company faces everyday. I’m going to focus this post on Chapter 5, Content Management—Beyond Single Sourcing, by William Hart-Davidson because this chapter opened my eyes to the question of large groups writing together.

On page 141, Hart-Davidson says, “…if their expertise is used properly, technical communicators can help organizations avoid the pitfalls and prosper.” I think this statement sums up everything I’ve noticed since I’ve been out of college and in industry. A lot of companies don’t understand the value with having a technical communicator in the organization.

I think if you’re going to have a company with a content group, you need to have a couple of technical communicators involved because they tend to understand the usability that content management needs to have and they also understand what a quality document is versus a document that isn’t too necessary for the organization.

It’s weird because I used to work for a company where there were only two writers in the entire organization. My coworker and I created everything. It was nice because we didn’t have too many other people sticking their noses into the details of our content. Now I work for a company where there are 40 people creating content together for the same audience. It’s completely different than what I’m used to.

Working with 40 other writers/designers/photographers is super challenging because everyone wants something different with the document. The writer wants good content. The designer wants a nice looking page. The photographer wants certain images to be a certain size on a page. A lot of my time is spent trying to convince people that the content I create needs to be on the page.

My biggest problem with my job is that the three managers (one for each group) only understand the one aspect that he or she is in-charge of. I’m 100 percent confident that if my company put a technical communicator in-charge of all three groups, everything would get done and the quality of the documents would improve because a technical communicator understands how writing, designing, and photography work together to make a page.

The managers at my company are too old-school and they don’t listen to suggestions. I’ve told my boss that I have a lot more skills (e.g. design and understanding CMS) and they just don’t want to hear it. I think my bosses need to be educated about the field of Tech. Comm. The problem is it’s challenging to educate people that don’t want to listen.

Here’s a link to the Adobe Tech. Comm. team:

They use a blog which I think is pretty cool because it allows customers and employees to interact as a group. I think a large writing group within an organization could use something like this.

About natefellows

I don't know karate but I can scream really loud.

Posted on October 30, 2011, in Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. It is so important to have a techical communicator within the work place! I work at an audiology practice, and without our lab techs, who are highly trained to operate our hearing devices, our patients would constantly have to be making appointments with our doctors just to keep their hearing aids up and running. If our doctors constantly had to answer questions about the hearing aids they would never be able to take on new patients and allow our practice to grow.

  2. The concepts you present regarding large group projects is so important today. What is an additional concern is the amount of groups that contain members that work remotely.

    Because I work from a home office for a company that is located in Fort Worth, TX. I have to deal with all projects remotely. So far the groups have been small enough that we can work via email and telephone; however, soon enough I will have to work with other groups that are larger.

  3. I find it kind of ironic that many of the articles in the Spilka text go on and on about how we, as writers, need to diversify our talents. We need to be content managers, and information architects, and even Java programmers. Then we come across an example like yours, Nate, out in the work world. You have a diverse range of skills, but your managers just don’t understand the implications and, frankly, they don’t want to hear about it.

    Spilka’s folks keep reiterating how business is on the cutting edge, but for a lot of us, we have experienced how companies are still trying to make do with ancient equipment because they’re too cheap to upgrade. Unless they’re a company that is dependent on technology and specific programs (like a web marketing company, engineering, or tech support), they will run the cheapest software on the oldest machines that they can get away with.

    They don’t want to know about the future, because they seem to be paddling so hard just to keep their heads above the bottom line that they can’t think of anything but now. None of the businesses I’ve worked at had any kind of succession planning going on. It was “money grab for today.”

    • I hear you on Spilka: do it all :-O I guess it depends on what size company one works for. Some technical communicators have to do it all, while some are more specialized (meaning they do the same thing over and over and over).

    • Heidi–

      You’re absolutely right–it’s all about the bottom line. Here’s a real example that just happened. My computer was super old and I finally got a new one. The IT person hooked it up, but I never got a new keyboard, mouse, or screen. The thing I needed the most was a new screen but since mine still worked, the company felt there’s no need to replace it. It’s really frustrating because not replacing my screen shows me that the company does not really value the employee because a computer screen is a tool that an employee uses so he or she can do his or her job. If I had a new widescreen, it would make my job a lot easier and I would be more efficient because I would be able to open more than one window at a time.

      If the Amish had computers, they would be nicer than mine.

  4. Nate–how do people in your organization edit the documents? Do you just pass around the Word document or a hard copy? In my company, we usually put our proposals in InDesign after technical staff write the copy because the proposals look better. But, not everybody has InDesign (only the marketing group). If somebody wants to edit the copy after it’s in InDesign, the person has to edit a printed copy or a few use Adobe Acrobat to add comments. The editing process sometimes gets messy.

    • Natalie–

      We use everything to edit documents. Our main copy is written by using a custom software program (that a company built specifically for us) that is compatible with Adobe InDesign. After I write something in our custom software (we just call it the data base), I print it on a piece of paper and turn it into the proofing department. The proofers mark it up and then they turn the marked up paper copy back to me. I then go back into the data base and make the changes. After I make the changes, I then print a final copy and turn it into the pagination and design group. After pagination and design (using InDesign) puts my copy into the catalog or brochure, they print a page and turn it into proofing. Proofing then makes sure that everything is correct (e.g. registered trademarks, grammar, etc.). After proofing is done, I get the page back and make any edits. After I’m done (for the second time), I turn the page into my boss and he e-mails a PDF copy of the page to the customer (so the customer can verify the logo is correct, product photo is correct, and the copy is correct). After the customer looks at the page, I get the page back (for the third time) and make any changes. After I’m done with it, I send the page back to proofing and they verify all of my changes have been made and that everything is correct. Then I get the page for the final (fourth) time to verify and sign-off on it. Then the page goes to design and the photo department so they can sign-off. After that, the page goes back to pagination so it can be finalized in the book.

      The entire process takes about three weeks. Right now we’re writing 8 catalogs and the Website. Each catalog has anywhere from 600-1800 pages. It’s basically controlled chaos because there’s usually about 1000 pages floating around all the time. The thing is, the process could be greatly improved and people have come up with great ideas to make it more efficient, but management is stuck in the past and won’t even consider changing how we do things.

      We print, use, and waste a lot of paper throughout the year. If we went electronic with everything, the amount of money we would save on paper would be greater than what it would cost to buy the necessary software to make a digital environment for everyone.

      Oh, and press releases are written in Word.

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