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July 29, 2013

The problem of tech comm WINOs

If you have worked in or around technical communication, you have probably met at least one WINO (Writer In Name Only).

Successful technical communicators need three major skill sets: writing ability, domain knowledge, and an understanding of publishing tools and technology. A lack of talent in one area leads to the basic categories of WINOs:

  • Font Fondlers (a term definitely not coined by me): Spend more time tweaking formatting and making things look pretty than on actual writing tasks. Status: Endangered by structured authoring and formatting automation.
  • SME Scribe: Tout ignorance of the product as an asset because it “helps with empathy for the user.” More transcriptionist than writer. Status: Common in all industries.
  • Illiterati: Cannot write. Don’t recognize the grammatical, mechanical, or logical errors in their content. Status: Endemic worldwide.

There are also delightful combinations, such as the Illiterati Scribes.

My rudimentary taxonomy of problem tech comm came about because of a different article. I wrote a guest post for Adobe about the intersection of content strategy and technical communication, in which I said:

[Content strategy] is not a good fit for the “You’ll pry Favorite Software from my cold, dead hands” contingent because if your favorite tool doesn’t meet the business’s goals, it is your job to identify a better alternative.

The Partisan Publishers are an interesting type of technical communicator. They are rarely WINOs; more often, they are talented technical communicators who have mastered a specific toolset. They are extremely productive in those tools and therefore opposed to any changes. What they sometimes fail to recognize is that efficiency is secondary to choosing the right thing. So, to take an extreme example, mastery of a tool that only produces WinHelp is not that…helpful.

Are there other categories of WINOs that I have missed?