Re: No Bucks, No Buck Rogers (LONG and Cranky)

Subject: Re: No Bucks, No Buck Rogers (LONG and Cranky)
From: "Steven Feldberg" <steven -at- icu -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2000 00:43:30 -0500

Oh, I just couldn't take it any more...

I do not disagree that tech comm programs in general could use some tuning
up. However, I find it difficult to wade through the hyperbole,
overgeneralizations, baseless assertions, opinions masquerading as facts,
and all the rest of that rhetorical hogwash (all anathema to good technical
writing of course) that have been put forth.

> I am sure there are lots of people out there who devote all their heart
and
> soul to tech comm programs. I am not taking issue with these individuals.
> I take issue with the perceived value of a tech comm programs.

The value as perceived by whom? By you? Please correct me if I'm wrong about
this, but what I think is really being said here is that the value that
*you* perceive to be the *generally perceived value* of these programs does
not match the actual value of these programs as *you* perceive the actual
value to be. What's missing then, is any objective analysis whatsoever.

>These programs are
> being sold to people as the "avenue to technical communications".

Okay, so the ``perceived value'' as you take it, is that these programs
offer an ``avenue to technical writing,'' but that in reality, ``The sad
fact is, most of the programs are a teaching a minimal amount set of
skills.''

First of all, where do you come off speaking for ``most of the programs?''
Have you done an across-the-board exhaustive survey? Have you evaluated the
curricula of these programs? Perhaps you're basing this statement on
personal experience as a teacher/student/administrator in one or more of
these programs? I doubt it. Could you even name half a dozen such programs?

Secondly, are you suggesting that it is up to an educational program to
provide its enrollees with more than a ``minimal amount set of skills"? How
much more? I
don't know of a single doctor who was able to hang a shingle upon graduating
from medical school. Rather, they acquired the *minimal set of skills*
necessary for success in the medical profession from their schooling. Is it
fair expect more from technical communications programs?

> that does not adequately prepare the would be tech writer for the real
world.

What ``real world"? The one that *you* work in? Is it just maybe possible
that the real world, even the slice of it occupied by us tech writers,
extends beyond your personal experience? Is it possible that there are tech
comm programs out there that do prepare would-be tech writers for what
they're likely to face? If this were not the case, one would think that
natural selection would be sufficient to consign tech comm programs to
the academic dustbin. Is there maybe just a tiny sliver of a chance that
such programs do exist, and exist in abundance, because they actually do
fulfill a useful purpose (beyond merely enriching the coffers of those
greedy old universities and tech schools)?

>In the
> real world, good tech writers are both knowledgeable about
science/technology
> as well as having good documentation skills (layout, organization,
grammar,
> etc.)

Okay, I'm with you there, as far as it goes....but all the above can be
gleaned from any half-decent educational program.

> Furthermore, STC meetings are typically 9/10ths people trying to sell you
> something and 1/10th drinking watery coffee.

I've had some pretty damned good coffee at an STC meeting or two, I'll have
you know. But again, this assertion is based on What? The x number of STC
meetings that you have attended? The reports (how many?) of meetings that
you have read in STC publications? Hey -- have you actually
ever been to an STC meeting? I'm not saying you haven't -- I don't know; but
don't you think you owe it to your audience to let us in on the little
secret of whence this expansive knowledge about STC meetings derives?

>Attending them does not in anyway make you a better writer.

Again, up to a point. But how 'bout if someone at such a meeting inspires
you to try something new and different that enhances your writing? Isn't
that worth something? If a speaker shows a young writer that it's possible
to step up and take responsibility for the quality of one's own work --
despite that cranky, grammar-disabled boss and the slew of sassy subject
matter experts -- can that not lead to making one a better writer? Not in
any way? Are you so sure?

> Oh yeah. Advisory boards are tremendously effective creations.

Gotta love them overgeneralizations...yup, yup, yup...

> When was the
> last time you heard: "Advisory Board recommends difficult,
cross-discipline
> educational curriculum and flunking stupid people."

Got me there. Try this one on for size: ``Advisory Board recommends
challenging, cross-discipline curriculum that accepts nothing less than the
highest standard of excellence from students.....'' (Personal aside: Mr.
Plato, you're not really suggesting that people shoud be flunked simply
because they're stupid, are you? Hell, some of my best friends are stupid
;-) but we -- I mean *they* -- work harder than anyone else to compensate
and often achieve a level excellence that would put most so-called smart
people to shame. So let's please stick to flunking people who simply fail to
make the grade, irrespective of intelligence. Okay?)

> All you need is one prof to run the program and you contract a bunch of
local
> industry egomaniacs to teach the classes. Industry egomaniacs work for
cheap.

Ouch, that hurt -- I'm one of those work-for-cheap ``egomaniacs'' -- now
there's a nice neutral term ;-) Mr. Plato, perhaps you're just trying to get
a rise out of us here (and it's worked, otherwise I wouldn't be typing this
instead of doing my taxes) but don't you really think blanket statements
like the one you make here are simply silly and insulting? I'll speak from
personal experience on this. Belive me, sir, there are better ways to grab
some cheap ego gratification than to spend two to three days a week
preparing for class, grading papers, responding to student e-mails and phone
calls, acting as part-time crisis counsellor, and spending untold hours in
NY rush-hour traffic jockeying with death-mobile taxies on the Brooklyn
bridge (that part was actually kinda fun I have to admit).

You are qualified to pass judgement on the motivations of hundreds of people
whom you have never met and never taken the time to question? Bravo.
(Forgive me, I'm making an assumption here that you haven't surveyed a
representative sample of ``local industry egomanaics'' -- but based on the
pervasive paucity of any substance whatsover in most of your assertions,
it's a pretty good bet.)

> So the profit margin on these programs must be good. Hence the
universities use
> them as profit centers to offset the big-ticket research and headline
grabbing
> programs.

Perhaps. Is this a bad thing? Doesn't your business (and mine) do this to
one degree or another? Don't most? Does that dash our credibility or our
ability to deliver a quality product?

> Certificate programs are the fast food of education. Cheap, quick, and
devoid
> of substance.

Here we go again.... ``devoid of substance'' according to Mr. Plato who

[ ] has [X] has not

studied the curricula and syllabi of a representative sampling of technical
communications certificate programs.

>They attract people who want (need) the illusion of competence.

Okay, now we've upped the ante and we're postulating the motivations of not
just the instructors, but a larger set of humans, the students. And no one,
I suppose, enrolls in these programs because it might be fun, or to learn
something new, or to meet people with common interests, or to shake loose
from comfortable habits of thinking, or -- believe it or not -- to become
better writers?

> You should read some of the "sales" brochures for these programs. I just
read
> through the tech writing program web site at San Francisco State
University.
> The pitch it real clear...as demonstrated in this quote from their site:
>
> "After completing the TPW program, you can begin your writing career with
> important accomplishments and advantages: an academic degree or
certificate in
> the field, improved and focused skills, an understanding of professional
> expectations for writers, and a portfolio of relevant writing samples."
>
> Now, we all know that skills do not come from a certificate.

Of course not. The quote you cite does not posit a causal relationship
between the certificate as such, and skills.

>They come from hard-work, intelligence, and experience. There is no
short-cut to those things.
> Sure, these programs can be a good way to get some basic exposure to tech
comm,
> but the fact is - no program will make a person a good technical writer.

Maybe I missed this, but where has it been stated that a ``program will make
a person a good technical writer'' by anyone other than yourself? The SFSU
quote does not even come close to making such a claim. The gist of the
pitch, as I read it, is that the program will give you what amounts to a
running start in a tech comm career. How is this anything but a *good*
thing? Your firm places writers. All things being equal, would you not
consider the completion of such a program a net positive?

> > I would think that would be far
> > more productive than vilifying schools on this list. I don't know about
> > liberal arts schools, but every accredited engineering college is
required
> > to have an industrial advisory board of some sort. Contact the dean's
> > office...they may be thrilled to have you.
>
> HA! Advisory boards LOATHE people like me.

You think so? Have you actually approached such a body? You may be surprised
by the response.

>Like the programs they oversee -
> these organizations provide the illusion of action through hours of
pointless
> babble.

Oh, come on already! How many advisory board meetings have you sat in on?
Have you reviewed meeting minutes in any sort of systematic way to arrive at
this conclusion?

> Leadership is not the same as consensus.

Right; sorry, but I just don't get how this lame platitude is related to the
prior point. Are you suggesting that ``leadership'' in lieu of consensus is
the way out here? If so, it would seem (to me at least) that Mr. Altom's
suggestion makes a great deal of sense. Go for it dude!

> > Simply Written proudly serves on
> > the IUPUI School of Engineering's DIAC, and for just the reasons I
stated.
>
> ..and for the free advertising.

And now we're upping the ante yet again, bringing that razor-sharp insight
into What Motivates Us All to companies as well. What next?


Steven Feldberg
Feldberg Communications
steven -at- icu -dot- com







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