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By Jack Kandalle
A fairly typical situation in technical writing is when a new writer is hired as a part of an existing team. Such a common arrangement has both its pros and cons, and you need to step your way carefully through some of the pitfalls.
For one thing, if you are the new team member, learn who’s the leader of the team and who is the second-in-charge. Sometimes the identity of the group leader is obvious since her title is either Manager or Lead Writer, etc. But sometimes the team is led by another writer who looks your equal on paper. Respect the existing power structure and prove your sincerity by learning the ropes. One way to do that is to familiarize yourself thoroughly with the templates and style guidelines the group is using.
Make sure to examine all written or posted guidelines and FAQ lists before escalating your inquiry to the lead writer or the management. Frequent consultation with the management at the end creates an impression of ineptitude.
Be careful with your time estimates. Always consult with others and examine the previous projects before submitting a time estimate for the task assigned to you. If possible, overestimate your time and finish the project earlier. However, refrain from finishing your assignment TOO early since that would also create a bad impression since your manager think you simply have no idea what you’re doing. Finishing a task too early is as bad as finishing late.
If you have nothing to do, never complain about it to your manager since that would reflect bad on the management as well. And if you’re going to do it, do it in private when you’re one-on-one with your manager. Complaining about lack of work and boredom in public would result in two things: 1) Your manager will pile an unwanted amount of work on your shoulders, or 2) You’ll be fired for putting the idea in your manager’s mind that there’s actually nothing for you to do in the office. So, be careful. Remember the general principle of office survival: PRAISE IN PUBLIC; CRITICIZE IN PRIVATE.
Always be organized and have facts and files at the tip of your finger tips. There is no easier way of winning the admiration of your colleagues than finding a much-needed file or phone number quickly.
Formulate all your criticisms as “suggestions for improvement.” If, for example, you do not like the current document template, suggest ways to “improve” it rather than lambasting it. A kind suggestion for improvement will always win you more friends, without alienating anyone.
Lastly: watch your emails like a hawk. NEVER write anything in email that you’d regret if it were read by others. Never gossip. Stay away from all religious, political and personal controversies and discussions. Office is for working and earning money, not for ego aggrandizement, flirting or “self actualization” exercises.