Online groups, spring 2010
If a user guide is not accurate, does the disclaimer "This guide is not comprehensive and has no legal force" protect an organization from a lawsuit?
You are trying to say, "We did our best, but we are not perfect. If we made a mistake, do not blame us." The question is whether the disclaimer indemnifies your organization if the information is not correct. However, if the information in the user guide is not reliable, then why did your organization supply the user guide?
In UK law and US law, documentation must be fit for purpose. A disclaimer cannot change that fact. 'Due diligence' is an important legal principle. If damage or injury is a result of a bad user guide, the only defence is that reasonable care was used to make the user guide.
Possibly, a lawyer wanted the disclaimer to be in the user guide. If you want to remove the disclaimer, make sure that you have written approval from a senior person in your organization.
If you work as a freelance technical communicator, you need to think about two possible problems:
- Your client's customers make a claim against your client.
- Your client makes a claim against you.
Most replies included a disclaimer such as, "I am not a lawyer. Do not rely on my opinion. Get legal advice."
A member who wants to study for an MA in technical communication asked, "… as an author with over 30 years' experience, I wondered if it was actually worth doing?"
Members discussed technical communication courses from the following universities:
- Sheffield Hallam
- Limerick (www.ul.ie).
The primary question to ask is whether having an MA is an advantage compared to not having an MA.
An MA in a career-related topic shows that you are serious about your profession. However, an academic qualification does not make sure that you will get a better job. Many good technical communicators do not have a technical communications degree.
An MA gives you a theoretical background to your daily professional practice and lets you develop a wider perspective. You will know more about why you do what you do. A member who has a technical communication MA wrote that because she has the highest qualification [in the UK] in the field of technical communication, she has the confidence to talk to new clients and to give them advice.
One member must produce a proposal to make the development of technical information more efficient. He wants to show his colleagues how they can use content more than once. People work in different departments, but they write technical content and marketing content about the same subject.
Members suggested the following tools and suppliers:
- XMetaL (http://justsystems.com)
- Quark (www.quark.com)
- Mekon (www.mekon.com)
- Ovidius (www.ovidius.com).
Some people wrote that the reuse of content is not about tools. Reuse is about strategy, business processes, who 'owns' the content, people, and methods of writing. One member wrote, "Start with a small project to demonstrate the value of a CM system."
The first step is to analyse the content that an organization produces. The analysis can be a long and difficult task. Sometimes, the task is political, because department managers feel threatened by attempts to control 'their' content.
Possible problems with reuse of content are as follows:
- The style of a help topic is not applicable to marketing material.
- You cannot expect a marketer to learn how to use an XML editing tool.
- To get to the target of 'write once, use many times', you will probably need more style guidelines and better processes than you have now.
Sources of information include the following things:
- Books and articles by JoAnn Hackos
- 'Authoring for maximum reuse', Tim Voss, Communicator, Winter 2006
- A website search for articles about 'content strategy'.
A trophy was found in the old ISTC office. Something that looks similar to five vertical organ pipes is on the top of the base. The text on the trophy is:
The Rank Xerox Award
If you have information about the award, please tell Emma Bayne.