How to Spot a Bad Technical Writer

A good technical writer is more than just a writer; he or she is a member of the team in every respect. Let’s use as an example a software development project, and list some of the telltale signs of the technical writer you absolutely do not want on your team:

  • He doesn’t see himself as part of the team but rather as its number one critic. He knows better than the developers/engineers/marketing teams what the customer wants and needs, or worse, how the whole company should be run. He lacks the humility needed to forge a good working relationship with his more knowledgeable colleagues.
  • She is obsessed with grammar. I don’t mean that she merely insists on following the rules, but rather that she doesn’t grasp that her role is to produce text that is easy to read and easy to understand, not to nitpick and argue with everyone about the Harvard comma and whether “data” is singular or plural.
  • He takes the narrowest possible view of his responsibilities – he doesn’t try out the software, he doesn’t talk to the QA or support teams to find out about how the software works “out there” in the real world. He doesn’t seem to be aware that the team has a mission and that he can’t retreat into his little corner and scribble away as though the team’s mission is not his mission too.
  • She lets everybody know that she is doing them a huge favor by just showing up every day.
  • He doesn’t put in the extra hours the rest of the team puts in at crunch time.
  • She only reacts; she never initiates anything or comes up with new ideas on how to improve workflows, communication, anything.
  • He prefers meaningless jargon to substantive informative text.
  • She doesn’t keep up with the latest tools of the trade and never wants to hear about new ways of doing things.
  • He starts talking about lunch first thing in the morning.
  • She thinks that “good enough” is good enough.
  • He falls asleep at meetings.
  • Nothing is ever her fault; she has never made a mistake in her life.

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