Re: Learning How to Do and Learning How to Learn (Was: New Hires)

Subject: Re: Learning How to Do and Learning How to Learn (Was: New Hires)
From: "Mark Baker" <mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 7 Jan 2000 11:51:25 -0500

George F. Hayhoe wrote

> And far
> more important, the tools students are exposed to should be presented
> as more than just software for software's sake. The assignments built
> around the use of these tools should encourage students to become
> explorers of technology. The facts, theories, and skills learned as a
> result of such guided explorations are far more valuable and
> long-lived than the knowledge of the particular applications.

I think this distinction can usefully be taken further.

When I learned PageMaker, I was already experienced in page design and page
layout. I had been doing it for several years with wax, tape, and PMT's. I
was a journeyman page layout artist already and all I had to learn was how
PageMaker implemented the page layout concepts I already knew.

I was able to learn PageMaker quickly on my own, but only because I
understood the craft I was trying to practice with it.

I suspect that many people who go for training on PageMaker or Frame today
are not already experienced in page design and page layout, and that much of
what they learn in the course is basic craft, rather than strictly software

When I say that no self respecting technical writer should need or want
training in the use of software tools, I should make the caveat that
training is perfectly appropriate for learning a craft. Technical writers
who have to do page layout can and should be trained in that craft (using a
variety of tools, both software and mechanical). It is also quite legitimate
for a degree program to include some craft training, as long as it is not
predominate over education.

That said, technical writers should not have to do page layout and design.
It is a separate trade and should be practiced by professionals. The
connection between writing and page layout is a late and lamentable
consequence of desktop publishing. In the future, the need for single
sourcing and multi-purposing will thankfully drive out DTP and let us get on
with our real work.

I would therefore assert that craft training in page design and layout is a
legitimate part of a TW curriculum, but not an appropriate one as we look to
the future. I would continue to assert that specific software tool training
is both illegitimate and inappropriate.

Mark Baker
Senior Technical Communicator
OmniMark Technologies Corporation
1400 Blair Place
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada, K1J 9B8
Phone: 613-745-4242
Fax: 613-745-5560
Email mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com

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