To a first approximation, synthesis, unlike technical writing, cannot be taught. It combines a lifetime of experience with natural proclivities and a wide and deep knowledge base. It requires significant skills in critical thinking.
In the context of my activities, a synthesist must be familiar with not only the topic under discussion, but the basics of the science and technology that underlie the research, phenomena, or technology being addressed. Synthesis presumes significant knowledge of the nature of the organization, its role(s) in the larger context, how the work being addressed fits into the larger body of knowledge, and hands-on experience with as many aspects of the topic as is possible. Synthesis requires exploring the universe of applicable materials, deciding what is appropriate for the target communications vehicle, collecting and collating these materials, and then synthesizing a suitable document, where there was no such document before. Synthesis involves many of the same tools as technical writing and uses editing as one of its tools, but more commonly the activity involves creating a new, usually highly complex document from existing material. A synthesist will apply editorial acumen during the process, and will often work with one or more editors (see below).
Technical writing has much in common with synthesis, but the key difference is in the amount and nature of data and information being dealt with, and the contexts in which the work must be placed. Most often, a technical writer will have familiarity with the topic, excellent research skills, and an ability to generate a suitable document or other communications medium. But hands-on experience with the topic areas is not always available.
Among myriad other activities, editing commonly involves taking existing material and working with it to improve it. Top editors have enough topic-related background to know when logical flows are lacking, where information is needed, and when and how structure needs to be changed to make the document into an effective one. Usually, a marked-up (and often modified) document is returned to the author(s) for further work. Another editing pass is then often instituted.
After an initial mutual introduction to see if we really can work well together, we will define the parameters and boundaries of the work you need done and my proposed response. We will establish the nature of the work, what are our respective roles and responsibilities, the schedule—including drafts, review and commentary, my responses, etc.—the nature of the final deliverable, and when it is due. We will also discuss fees and payment schedules.
Depending on the nature and scope of the work you need done, I may propose a solution that goes beyond my singular activities. I would investigate what other resources might be needed to ensure a quality and timely response to your needs, and propose the team approach to you.
After we determine all the components (as outlined above), just turn me loose on your project. I prefer to work in a “black-box” mode (i.e., feed me input, I’ll give you quality output), but be assured that I will comply with all agreed-upon interim reporting requirements. And, if I have any problem—be it technical, budgetary, schedule, or anything else—rest assured that I will contact you as soon as I surface it, or determine that I cannot deal with it without your input.
We can build appropriate language into a consulting or services agreement, and/or we can negotiate a nondisclosure agreement (NDA). I do this routinely. Please note that I have worked with many types of organizations over the years, some with very stringent requirements for data/information handling. I never discuss my projects with anyone about whom you have no knowledge; you’d preapprove potential teams that I may form to respond to your project needs, and all such team members would be subject to my umbrella NDA or I can enforce individual NDAs, should you wish. Regardless, I never use material from one client for another’s projects. Hard copy material is shredded after use.
Electronic Document Storage and Use
Operationally, all working materials are stored in encrypted volumes on my disk drives that are unloaded whenever I leave the office. Project-related working and interim material will be deleted from my disks upon final delivery, should that be your wish, although I prefer to retain a copy of the final deliverable.
My Internet connection is encrypted line-of-sight wireless. All Web connections are made with the secure https protocol where target servers support it. Email connections are made with TLS (secure-to-dedicated-port) protocols. Should I need to work offsite, I always use VPN tunnels to connect to whatever servers I need to access. We can arrange for encryption for electronically transferred input material and interim deliverables and drafts.
Please contact me should your needs not be met with these procedures.
We can establish fees on a per-hour, per-task, or per-project basis. My usual practice is to estimate the time required to do the work and then bill on an hourly basis once we come to terms. “Package” deals don’t work for me: While I’m generally quite good at estimating, it is not unusual for me to take less time than I’d thought, so I’d be paid for effort not actually expended. Such a situation is untenable to me, as it doesn’t map to my ethical standards. Conversely, there are times I go over my estimate; in those cases a package deal doesn’t work to my benefit; I am in business, after all. I can be flexible, but this is my starting position.
I bill monthly in arrears, i.e., for work accomplished during the preceding month. Along with the invoice I can provide a detailed report of daily activity, should you wish. Payment is expected within 30 days of receipt of the invoice. A penalty of 1.5% per month thereafter will be levied for invoices unpaid after 60 days. Payment may be by company check or direct deposit into one of my accounts.
You can call me at +1.406.284.4150.
In an introductory conversation we will discuss the nature of your task or project, where it fits into my published and potential service areas, and the period of performance. Please include any other information you think I should know about to allow me to formulate a response, to allow us to best use our respective resources. If I can comfortably do the work–that is, if my schedule and skill mix allow it–I’ll let you know and we can proceed from there.