Technical Writers Struggle with ‘Right to Forget’

Forgetful

Technical writers at SmallMinds LLC complain they are having difficulty providing quality documentation following the European censorship decision that grants subject matter experts (SMEs) the right to forget crucial information when being interviewed.

Since the European Union’s Court of Justice recently affirmed that SMEs have the right to forget to deliver crucial information, the technical writing profession has been inundated with complaints. Over a dozen complaints have been registered for our company since the dramatic ruling, which means that the number of people who actually read technical content suddenly reached double digits. However, some support staff have hypothesized that all support tickets opened to date are for the same old lady. “This woman used to call once a year to complain that the manual did not contain a warning that the computer mouse is not intended for cat consumption. Now she calls every other week to ask how come she can’t connect her vacuum cleaner to the internet,” Sue Me Chaching from customer support complained.

In an internal company e-mail, Rita Stilguide, the company’s Documentation Manager commented on the decision, saying that “the challenge is figuring out which information the SMEs omitted because they have the legal right to forget, and which information the SMEs omitted because they forgot it was important.”

Evaluating which information has been forgotten has proven particularly difficult since Zebediah Kilgrave stopped freelancing his services to technical writing teams such as ours. To make that determination technical writers now work with expert teams who individually interrogate SMEs in third world countries. These teams are responsible for determining which forgotten information is actually relevant to users. The team is comprised of professionals with experience in parapsychology, playground monitoring, goat watching, professional quiz show hosting, as well as the relevant SME’s mother. According to Mrs. Robinson, a mother “Our team can usually determine which forgotten information actually needs to be forgotten. For example, anything cat related must be included in the technical content, no matter how trivial. Users always want to read about cats – that and the location of the big red button. My son is always telling me to never press the big red button, so naturally I need to know where it is.”

Previously, companies relied on SMEs to clearly communicate to technical writers any relevant information. This method was considered highly successful due to the lack of negative (any) feedback on the published content.

But following the European ruling, companies such as ours are being forced to learn the hard way that just because SMEs may have the legal write to forget, the little old ladies who meticulously read the manuals do not. “And they have really long memories. If you forget to mention that the latest Android model is NOT planning on enslaving humanity, you will find yourself permanently removed from the Christmas card list” Rita complained. “It’s impossible to remember what to include when the SMEs are now allowed to forget.”

SMEs on the other hand view this as legal recognition of existing facts on the ground. “We forget stuff all the time. It’s not my fault the plane crashed, and Supergirl needed to rescue it. If they had read the manual first, they would have realized that I had forgotten to mention the lack of safety features,” Sergei “Serge” Aheadothem, one of our more experienced SMEs commented.

Serge suggests that sometimes his right to forget is actually beneficial to users. “Do users really want me to remember how I hacked into their Facebook accounts in order to test the safety of our latest shopping app? Trust me, forgetting to write down their credentials is exactly what they expect from me.”

Yehoshua Paul

Yehoshua Paul is a documentation specialist, technical communicator, technical writer, content manager - you name it, he’s done it. In his five years as a technical writer, Yehoshua has managed to work in a wide variety of companies; from small startups to large multi-national corporations. Currently he is working as the lone technical writer in a software company that develops web-based systems for airlines, travel agencies and tour operators.

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