Your cloak of invisibility

I just met, Internet style, Claire Mahoney — and already I’m a big fan. I loved her witty and on-the-mark article, Tech writer life: The invisibility conundrum.

Here are some of Claire’s suggestions for technical writers who want to become more visible in the workplace:

  • Work on relationships: Get out of your shell and join in the day-to-day office conversation.
  • Expand and expound: Say “yes” every time you get the opportunity to take on a new project, to provide help to people on other teams.
  • Care: Sweat the details. Put everything you have into everything you do. If others see that you take your work seriously, they’ll take it seriously too.
harry_potter_cloak

Harry Potter got his cloak of invisibility from a wizard. For us, it just comes with the job.

Do those things, and you’ll never have to worry about being invisible where you work.

However.

There’s one big thing Claire didn’t mention. As visible as we want to be in our workplaces, we technical writers had better get used to being invisible to our readers.

When we do our jobs right, nobody is supposed to notice. In that way we’re like the caterer at a big wedding, or the officials at a football game. If they do their jobs perfectly, all attention is on the bride and groom, or on the players in the game. If they mess up, well, that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Tongue-in-cheek, I’ve complained that there’s never been a technical writer on Dancing with the Stars. And I once proposed creating a Salute to Technical Communicators Day, but Congress never got around to approving the proclamation.

The reality is, the nature of our work renders us invisible. It’s possible that someone, somewhere, might notice a well-written spec sheet or tutorial and think “nice job.” But you’ll never get the glory. Or get to dance with Sharna Burgess.

In fact, if you do your job really well — if you participate in designing a product and it turns out to be so easy to use that it barely needs documentation — then you can be sure no one will notice. The product is just there, doing what it’s supposed to, and all of the attention is on the customer’s task.

Which is why we’d better be OK with the idea of being invisible — outside our workplaces. But never inside.

Tell me about your experiences with invisibility in the comments section.

Image  source: harrypotter.wikia.com
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2 thoughts on “Your cloak of invisibility

    1. Larry Kunz Post author

      Thanks, Martin. I’m happy to see empirical evidence that learning DITA can help us doff the cloak of invisibility — at least within the workplace. Content that’s structured and reusable provides more opportunities for Tech Pubs to collaborate with Marketing, Tech Support, and other parts of the organization.

      Reply

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