Using Technical Writers
In last week's blog, I discussed five ways to increase their report writing speed. There is also a sixth approach lab managers can use to get reports written and issued quickly: hire a technical writer to write the report. However, this approach has
In last week's blog, I discussed five ways to increase their report writing speed. There is also a sixth approach lab managers can use to get reports written and issued quickly: hire a technical writer to write the report. However, this approach has its own pitfalls that can make it a painful process. However, learning how to avoid these pitfalls can enable lab managers to conserve much of their time that would otherwise be spent writing reports for leading and managing.
So how can lab managers profitably use technical writers to prepare needed reports while conserving their own time for other management activities?
Selecting an appropriate writer
The first essential is selecting an appropriate technical writer. This could be one of your staff members with excellent technical writing skills. It could also be a retired staff member with excellent writing skills. Using one of these types of individuals has the advantage that they know your corporate culture and how to get things done in that corporate culture.
A second approach is to hire an outside technical writer. If you do so, be sure to study examples of his/her technical writing and interview the person. The ideal background is a general knowledge of the technical area or management area in question and excellent technical writing skills. Interview candidates just as carefully as you would candidates for full-time staff positions. After all, you may wish to use a technical writer repeatedly. Other laboratory managers may wish to use the technical writer you identify.
Finding an appropriate technical writer may not be easy. One lab manager I work for hired and fired three technical writers in less than four months before contracting with me. Two were currently employees he tried out in full-time writing positions. The third was an outside technical writer. None of them worked out for various reasons.
Once you hire a technical writer, have that individual sign a confidentiality agreement to protect your laboratory's confidential information. Decide in advance whether you require the writer to work in your laboratory or whether working primarily or completely from a home office is acceptable.
Whether or not the writer works on the premises, you need to monitor his/her progress. This requires effective project management skills on both your part and that of the writer. Begin by defining the deadline to submit the first draft of the manuscript. This will be set by your own needs and shouldn't be the subject of negotiations unless you have allowed a completely inadequate time to write the report. Then work with the writer to define project milestones and dates required for achieving these milestones.
Keep in touch with the writer to be insure that project milestones are kept. If the writer begins missing milestones, you may need to reassess your decision to hire this writer.
Editing the report draft
Generally it is best for the lab manager to assume the primary responsibility for editing the submitted draft of the report. This assures that the final report issues written in an appropriate style. This shouldn't be a major problem if you hire a good writer, approve the writer's outline and monitor progress. However, you may still need to work with the writer to verify facts or have the writer add material you deem necessary to include.
Writing is a very personal process. You may find the individual's approach to a topic or the nature of his writing incompatible with your own style even if he/she performs well. In editing this individual's report draft, you may find yourself rewriting his/her report so extensively that you save little time. Should this occur, you face the question of accepting a report that is complete and accurate but that you don't feel reads as if you wrote it yourself. Some managers are comfortable with this situation; some are not.