Re: New Hires

Subject: Re: New Hires
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <susan-gallagher -at- vertel -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 07 Jan 2000 18:23:19 -0800

>I wrote:
>> What I do think is essential is what I can only term "elementary
>> cognitive psychology" ... perception
>> and learning styles... Knowing all the
>> grammar in the world doesn't help if you fail to consider how the
>> eye moves as we read and what happens when the brain expects a
>> verb and smacks into a noun instead.
Mark Baker replied:
>The only problem with this idea is that it confuses the critical art with
>the creative art. Elementary cognitive psychology may have something to tell
>us in explaining why good writing is good and bad writing is bad. That does
>not mean that the knowledge of this psychology will actually help you write
>any better. There is a problem of complexity here. People write well based
>on long practice, good editing, and an innate sensibility, not out of a
>functional application of either grammar or psychology.

Well, I understand what you're saying, but our difference of opinion
stems from our differences in learning styles. While I admit that the
knowledge of this psychology may not actually help you write any better,
I know that it has helped me and I have passed the information on to
others and seen it be of help.

Someone with a natural talent for writing may intuit that one grammatical
construct is better/more effective than another, and that may be all that
is necessary for that individual. However, someone else with the same
talent and the same intuition may feel less confident in their intuition
because there is no concrete proof or well-seated reason for their
decision. Knowing that the conclusion reached by their intuition is proven
by research can be invaluable.

And you missed the other part of my suggestion, that understanding the
different learning styles of the members of our audience helps us to
better address their needs. One can write sterling prose, but if there
are members of the target audience that learn best by doing and there
are no exercises to perform, one does not serve them well despite the
best written prose. Likewise, if there are visual learners and we
present no diagrams, we do not serve our audience. But we need to know
that these learning styles exist before we can accommodate them.

Was I a good technical writer before I knew these things? Yes, I
believe I was. But I also believe that I am a better writer now because
I understand my audience better and so can better serve their needs.

>You can use trigonometry (or calculus, or some other sort of math) to
>explain the trajectory of a ball in flight. But baseball teams do not send
>their hitters to math class to improve their hitting. The act is to complex
>to do by the application of rules. It must be done by the application of
>innate ability honed by constant practice.

Again, it's a matter of learning styles, for I have frequently seen the
rules of mathematics debated around a pool table and the players more
confident in their abilities because they have a basic understanding of
the geometry/trigonometry involved. And we can intuit from this that
people who become professional athletes probably have different learning
styles (generally speaking) than people who become computer programmers
and play pool on Friday nite. ;-)

As much as we are all alike, we are also all different. While there are
some who say "practice, practice, practice", there are other's whose
mantra is "analyze, analyze, analyze". Neither approach is wrong; neither
approach is right. Cognitive psychology helps us to understand that our
audience can and may be very different from ourselves. Once we understand
those differences we can learn to accommodate them and we become better
writers in the process.

-Sue Gallagher
susan-gallagher -at- vertel -dot- com

The _Guide_ is definitive.
Reality is frequently inaccurate. --Douglas Adams

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