Wine Tasting and The Learning Curve

Yaakov and Ettie Morad, owners and founders of the Morad Winery opened the meeting with a the history of their winery in Yokneam. The move from being a 9-5 employee in a large company to opening and running an independent business was interesting in itself. I think it also provided insight from a different industry on one of the few constants in the TW profession; we constantly need to review and redefine our position in the company and the marketplace. Our profession is neither stable nor clearly defined. It is rare that the job description of an individual TW today resembles that of 5 years ago or 5 years from now. We are constantly forced to face many of the decisions that the Morad's made when they started the winery.

The wine tasting itself was an enjoyable and interesting experience. For many it was the first time tasting wine (or Sachar) made from cinnamon , and all were happy to have discovered one of Yokneam's hidden treasures.

After the wine, Moshe Chertoff's humorous presentation of translation bloopers set the stage for a round table discussion. Much of the discussion revolved around misperceptions that hurt both the tech writing service providers and purchasers of our services (employers and customers). The importance of the "learning curve" and the added value functions of the TW not directly related to producing a document were at the core of most of the discussion. Real life examples discussed included:

  • Companies that are trying to save money by changing writers every few months based on the lowest bid per hour, but unknowingly pay for many more hours due to the repeated learning curve. Even without factoring in the hidden costs of wasted developer time, delays, and loss of quality; the total amount of money paid to technical writers is increased dramatically.

  • Companies insisting on per page quotes. While appropriate for translations or technical editing (formatting and grammatical edits only), this method leads to paying a premium for poor quality worked with many pages at low per-page prices. This price structure penalizes clear, concise and properly organized presentation of technical material to the point where the less competent the writer, the more competitive the bid becomes. Because these "cost savings" are usually made up front where the information is gathered, the initial investment cannot be recovered later by using a different and more experienced writer to upgrade the documents. any upgrade would most likely require a repeat of the information gathering process. Only the formatting and stylistic design time could be recovered.

Other topics discussed included the importance of the actual writer as opposed to the (tech writing) company supplying the writer, and a common marketing brochure listing multiple writers and the differences between them. While this may be a useful idea for freelancers, it can be perceived as a threat to TW companies for whom the ability to offer and market a combined service is a competitive advantage.

Finally, there was general agreement that "educating the market" as to proper TW processes and the true role of technical writing would be beneficial to all parties (individual TWs, TW companies, and customers/employers).

The discussion could easily have continued for a while longer, but in my opinion, it would have been preferable to break earlier to allow some of the participants to leave earlier without undue embarrassment.

After the discussion, many of the participants continued the discussion in smaller groups. During these informal discussions the issue of whether the participation of TW companies (as opposed to freelancers, in house writers) is appropriate or desirable. It was generally agreed that the benefits of their participation far outweighed any inhibiting affect they may have on discussions relating to group marketing strategies that facilitate direct contact between individual writers and customers/employers.