TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:Re: Structure vs Substance? From:Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com> To:techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com Date:Sun, 11 Jun 2000 16:08:20 -0700 (PDT)
I am not against standards or using standardized processes. I am against
people and organizations that value structure over the substance. People and
organizations are living entities. Processes are not.
Processes do indeed have value, but that value is in the ability of humans to
leverage those processes to do work. The process itself has no value. It is
the outcome that matters.
What I hear from Tim and Dan is:
"Implement this process and you'll write better documents."
No you won't. Not if you're an idiot. No process can make an idiot write
decent docs. The correct solution is:
"Learn about the topic then find a way to communicate your ideas effectively.
This process might work."
I realize where you two are coming from. Both of you own your own consulting
organizations. Tim, you are vice president of a place that mandates your own
methodology on your customers. Your separate methods may indeed help people -
but they are not the answer to everything. Your processes and insistence on
procedure will not make an idiot write better. It just gives idiots something
else to do, masking their stupidity.
Unfortunately, some processes allow idiots to avoid work. Hence, you have tech
writers with 10 years of experience who are so incompetent they drain the life
out of their respective organizations. Just because you know a process does not
make you a good writer.
If you're writing documents about a database system, and you do not know how
that database works - you are an idiot (as far as the documentation is
concerned). And no mandated process from anybody can change that. The idiot
needs to get a lesson on how databases work.
Writers, write. They learn stuff, write it down, and help other people to
learn what they learned. How you get from point A (ignorance) to point B
(enlightenment) is a matter of taste, environment, and many other factors.
Yes, using some internationally recognized process might get you from point A
to B faster. But it is not a sure thing. Enlightenment is something applicable
to humans. There is no such thing as an enlightened tool or process.
Enlightenment and wisdom come from knowledge.
Knowledge can come from many sources. My father used to tell me stories about
how my grandfather ran his business. There was no process or internationally
recognized Microsoft-enabled system here. It was dad telling me things that
later in life helped me run my own business.
If you want to really, truly communicate you must have knowledge. Lawyers
become lawyers because they have a vast knowledge of the law and not because
they adopt some time-honored procedure. Doctors get to be doctors because they
have vast knowledge about how the body works, not because they know all the
intimate features of a surgical machine. Good tech writers excel because they
have strong technical skills and the ability to communicate that knowledge. How
they communicate that knowledge is a matter of preference, taste, and audience.
Now, if you want to be a process consultant. Cool. But, my suggestion to the
organizations of the world is stop hiring process consultants and get your
people up to speed on how the technical stuff works. Once you know how
something works, it is a lot easier to implement a process to handle the
information. Because you know what is important and not important.
As for the New Economy...it is not a standard. You have completely missed what
the New Economy is about, Dan. You really need to read up on it because your
arguments against it are practically nonsense.
The New Economy is a set of concepts, ideas, and writings about how the
marketplace of the 21st century functions. The theories and systems that form
the basis of modern capitalism are changing and evolving quickly in the age of
the Internet and high-speed, nearly frictionless commerce. Intellectuals have
termed this the "New Economy." Kevin Kelley along with many other economists,
journalists, and politicians have begun to define what the New Economy is as
well as developing concepts that can help guide modern businesses and
governments. For example, one theory often discussed is the value of
non-linear systems. That there can be tremendous value inside designs and
products that take a long time to catch on.
The New Economy has nothing to say about whether you use FrameMaker or a pencil
and a pad of paper. It doesn't dictate anything. It is not an enemy or a force
out to make you use Microsoft products. It also is not mandating chaos or
telling you to stop using XML.
Evolution happens. You either evolve and move forward or you get rammed into a
corner and ignore. I don't care what process my company or my clients use - I
just want them to move forward, meet the needs of customers, and make money.