Let go of your silo

Alan Pringle / Humor5 Comments

In reality, collaborative authoring is little more than a euphemism for the idea that “anyone can write.”

That’s Tom Johnson’s take on collaborative authoring in his latest blog post. The writer in me sympathizes deeply because the “anyone can write” attitude is a direct challenge to the careers of professional writers.

The manager and content strategist in me, however, are having a very hard time agreeing with that point of view.

To handle today’s Internet-fueled demand for instant information, companies have very little time to get information created and distributed, and the not-so-great economic climate generally means there are fewer people to handle those tasks.  Companies can address the need for speed by having multiple departments combine forces on content. Yes, it’s absolutely true that those in tech comm have better writing skills than many other departments. But that does not mean we should cloister our content and writing abilities away in a protected silo so the “unwashed masses” won’t contaminate our work with their less-skilled wording.

On the contrary, we should be helping our employers find tools that manage content collaboration and review. We can then use those tools to share our writing abilities with other departments that have the deeper technical know-how and the other skills we don’t.

It is difficult to change deeply ingrained mindsets about traditional company roles and content ownership. But when collaboration is done right, everyone contributes their particular strengths to the content process. The result is happy content consumers—and by extension, happy employers.

When you do decide to take down your tech comm silo, please do a better (and safer!) job than these folks:

About the Author

Alan Pringle

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Content strategy consulting. Publishing (electronic and print). Eating (preferably pastries and chocolate). COO at Scriptorium.

5 Comments on “Let go of your silo”

  1. There many ancillaries that can be brought up in this larger discussion but one aspect that I come back to (theoretically in my research as well as pragmatically at work) is this unfounded assumption that users “don’t care about the quality of writing.” There are, of course, two sides to this and the one side states that some content, even though poorly constructed, is better than no content immaculately crafted. Sensible people will offer the solution of trying to meet in the middle somewhere but I always come back to this blog post about how typos in content affect sales. You can’t find a more economic driver than that. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully prepared to research and create the content that is best for the user. But we have to weigh user ‘desirables’ versus business needs, and even your argument about employers trying to save money by settling for lesser content is suspect if ultimately that content leads to fewer sales. So even if we *think* that users want “less-skilled wording” in their content, or even if they scream that they do, we still have to use our judgment about what is best *for everyone*—which is the true strength of a technical communicator I believe.

    1. Fer,

      My argument in this post isn’t about accepting “lesser quality” writing–that’s another discussion. My point here is that tech writers should find tools that enable them to apply their writing skills to collaborative content. It can be done because I have worked on projects that enabled such processes.

      To move forward with such processes, though, we MUST get beyond the “only writers can write” mentality, which is as much BS as “anyone can write.” I’ve seen perfectly competent writing coming from engineers.

      Finally, as much as I’d like to agree with what you say about doing what is best for everyone, “everyone” doesn’t pay our salaries. Our employers do, which means they should have a bigger say.

  2. It is true that your argument isn’t about writing per se but I tried to position my comment to one of the ancillary aspects of this discussion that is worth mentioning; namely, that if we *techcomm* don’t tell our employers what’s best, who will? This is yet another balancing act that those in tech comm have to traverse.

  3. Collaboration doesn’t mean that anyone with a keyboard should be able to edit vetted content. Sure, some engineers write very well. But do they know what the approved terminology is for customer-facing documentation, as opposed to internal communications? Do they know how to use trademarks properly? Technical communicators do so much more than write. Letting amateur writers author external communications, without a professional editor in the workflow either before or after publication, will result in less quality, more ambiguity, and more information that’s just plain wrong. I don’t want to be that company’s customer.

    1. You’re right, Andrea: collaboration ≠ content free-for-all.

      To prevent such chaos, tech comm departments must help develop the requirements for a system that codifies review cycles, enables levels of access, and controls the approval/release of content.

      With such a system in place, we can be sure that content is vetted as you mention–and that’s where tech comm’s better writing skills come into play.

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