Natural Born Auditors

Photo by Paul Worthington on Flickr.com

Photo by Paul Worthington on Flickr.com

Many of us have the good fortune to work in a regulated industry or in an organization that’s subject to quality standards like ISO or Six Sigma. One of the perks of this sort of tech writing is that your work is subject to internal and external audits, which (with a skilled auditor) means that you actually get credit for producing high-quality documentation:

Auditor: Who wrote this?

Tech writer: I did.

Auditor: This is some fine work.

Boss (beams proudly at tech writer)

If you’re a skilled technical writer and you’ve sat across from an auditor, it might have occurred to you that the other side of the table has a certain appeal. I’ve been on both sides, and yes, it does. But before I tell you why you might enjoy it, let me tell you why you might be good at it.

Skilled auditors know how to glean information from other people’s incomprehensible writing, interview reluctant experts who would rather be somewhere else, politely ask probing questions, distinguish the truly-done from the wish-we-had, and pick out crucial data from the distracting trivia. They then wrap it all up in a clearly written, objective document that’s generally understood even by someone who’s not an expert in the area being audited. The auditor’s final product is an accurate picture of the forest and the trees. Sound familiar?

All right, so now that you know you can do it, why would you? I’ll leave aside the obvious benefits of career advancement, increased salary, mobility among disparate industries, blah… blah… blah. There’s a forensic side of technical writing, the part that makes us archaeologists, paleontologists, private detectives, and occasionally psychoanalysts. Rarely are we handed all the information we need on a plate: Technical writers usually have to dig deep to get the details, using our ability to find relevant information in half-hidden application screens, comment lines buried in the code, and of course those thrilling interviews with Subject Matter Experts. That side of technical writing is the thrill of the chase; auditing is rich in it, and if you enjoy it as a writer, you’ll enjoy it as an auditor.

I have only one caveat:  if you come from the Curmudgeon School of Technical Writing (God bless our curmudgeons), then this gig might not be for you. You can’t be a good auditor if you don’t enjoy asking polite questions, listening to the answers, and probing for the truth without the use of sarcasm. But for the rest of us, auditing is definitely a sweet spot. We were born to do this.

Dan Goldstein

Dan Goldstein was born and raised in Ithaca, New York, known to its denizens as “ten square miles surrounded by reality.” In tenth grade, Sylvia Mintz taught him everything he knows about writing. Years later (thirtieth grade, approximately), Neil Churgin taught him everything he knows about technical writing. Since 2002, Dan has specialized in Regulatory Affairs and Quality Assurance for medical devices, which is actually a lot of fun.

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