In a recent issue of the New Yorker, Atul Gawande argues quite persuasively that like participants in sports, surgeons (like himself) can benefit from coaches. Even the elite stars, like Rafael Nadal, he points out, have coaches, observing, watching every move of the tennis great. Why, he wonders, don’t doctors – even senior, experienced ones – have coaches? As he says, “”I’d paid to have a kid just out of college look at my [tennis] serve. So why did I find it inconceivable to pay someone to come into my operating room and coach me on my surgical technique?”
What does this have to do with technical writing? Actually, quite a bit. One of the problems I’ve noticed in most companies is that the only person to review the work of the technical writer is the Subject Matter Experts (SME) because 1) no else has time, 2) no one else has the inclination, and 3) the SMEs are probably the only ones in the organization who can verify that the content is correct. But with the exception of a small number of SMEs, no one edits the material for consistency, clarity, grammar or appearance. The result is that the information is (usually) correct but either difficult to understand or presented in an “unflattering” or useless way.
For Gawande, “Coaches are like editors.” At Shoap, everything that is released to a client is first edited by another writer who is 1) familiar with the technology or system described, 2) understands the intended audience of the piece and 3) knows how to write. This second set of eyes doesn’t guarantee that the document is 100% correct but it goes a long way towards that goal. At least we can assure our clients that there is consistency within the document (all references to a particular item, for example, are the same), that the formatting and presentation is the same on every page, and that “subjects and predicates,” as well as “pronouns and their antecedents” agree. Not to mention, that the approach (whether for a novice user or sophisticated developer) and tone are appropriate.
And for the writer, to return to Gawande’s point, the editor’s red pen drenched draft is an opportunity for her to hone her skills so the draft of the next project is that much better.