RE: "not technical enough"

Subject: RE: "not technical enough"
From: Tom Murrell <trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: walden miller <wmiller -at- vidiom -dot- com>, TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 28 Jul 2000 09:42:14 -0700 (PDT)

--- walden miller <wmiller -at- vidiom -dot- com> wrote:
> I think what is basically wrong with the concept of teaching tech writing is
> that so much of it is very contextual in the workplace. While the ISU profs
> certainly hammered in the idea that all writing is rhetorical, mastering the
> rhetoric of your individual workplace cannot be done outside of your
> workplace. You can't teach that. You can teach vocabulary, proposal design,
> graphic design, basic writing points and offer internships, etc. But the
> heart of tech writing is experience.

I don't disagree with the notion that each workplace has it's own rhetorical
style that any writer new to the workplace needs to learn, but I do disagree--a
little--with the idea that "the heart of tech writing is experience."

Now, I'm not running down experience, or even experience in a specific work
environment with a specific set of tools. But writing--even, or especially,
Technical Writing--is more than experience. I think your ISU professors were
very correct in placing the importance on mastering rhetoric as a generally
applicable tool. That is, after all, what a writer does.

I maintain, and have stated in many interviews, that as a writer I don't have
to know a lot about a specific thing about which I am to write. As a writer, my
job is to learn as much as possible (necessary?) about my subject and then
translate what I've learned into readable, useful prose for my audience. I've
done technical documentation in the process control, telecommunications,
computer, and now financial industries. Since I came out of the process control
area, that's the only one in which I was well versed at the start of a writing
project. Everything else I've had to learn and then apply that learning, with
the skills of my rhetorical craft (and a dozen other skills) to turn that
information into useful documentation of all kinds for audiences of all kinds.

Has my experience over the years been invaluable? Definitely. Would I trade it
for more rhetorical skills? No. Is it the heart of my craft? No. The heart of
my craft is my abilities as a writer to accomplish the mission before me.

Pontificatorily Yours,

Tom Murrell
Senior Technical Writer
Alliance Data Systems
Columbus, Ohio
mailto:trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com

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