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The Role of the Gatekeeper

by Tom Johnson on Jul 28, 2010
categories: technical-writing

Sarah O'Keefe's guest post -- The Role of the Gatekeeper is Changing -- on Peg Mulligan's blog is interesting. Sarah writes,

The Internet is removing the traditional gatekeepers for content.

This may seem obvious, but its implications in my life have been profound. I majored in English and then earned an MFA in creative writing. After graduating, I gathered up my best essays and sent them off to literary journals for publication. After months of waiting, I didn't publish hardly anything. It was frustrating. They were good essays, but they didn't have the right focus. That timeframe was about 1999 to 2002.

A few years later, I started blogging. First in an experimental, non-committal way. Then I started to gain more focus, and after a while, I realized that I could have as much satisfaction publishing online on my blog as I could in any print journal.

I realize Sarah's comment was in the context of technical communication, but the principle is the same. Whatever you want to publish, you can. There are almost no restrictions on the Internet. Collaborative platforms empower even the most technically illiterate people.

Sarah writes,

There's never enough time for in-house professionals to create all of the content that's needed. Contributions from the user community can provide additional support and build on the official core content.

This statement is more relevant to me now more than ever. I was enthusiastic about a particular project at work, and two weeks into it, the budget dropped. I have to take my half-written help content to the community to help finish it off. And while I have volunteers, I realize that I need a solid collaborative platform with clear directions, easy tasks, and a lot of management and feedback to be successful with community efforts.  All my previous efforts to involve community in writing documentation have mostly failed.

Sarah writes,

There is a temptation for business executives, especially in cash-poor start-ups, to dismiss their technical communication staff and simply rely on the community to provide documentation.

This trend always astounds me. Even in my organization, support for professional technical writers varies significantly from department to department. On some projects, the customer (in a specific business department) has a designated writer who handles the material. On other projects, we (the IT department) provide help. But it always frustrates me to see a project manager marginalize help and dismiss the technical writer's role. In fact, I need to meet with a project manager tomorrow to try to talk sense into him.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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