Tech writing and education questions?

Subject: Tech writing and education questions?
From: Geoff hart <ghart -at- attcanada -dot- ca>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "'AZUROSE -at- aol -dot- com'" <AZUROSE -at- aol -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2000 09:41:05 -0400

AZUROSE is <<working on a paper for a graduate class and would appreciate...
opinion on the following questions... 1. What best prepared you for a future
in this field?>>

Native skill as a writer, combined with a desire to help others learn how to do
things (including how to write clearly--I'm primarily an editor and informally
a teacher).

<<2. In your experience, are college programs adequately preparing students to
become effective technical communicators?>>

I don't have direct college experience in techwhirling, but I have seen
occasional discussions on techwr-l that suggest some schools do a marvelous
job, whereas others still concentrate on academic theory at the expense of real
world applicability. That is: schools vary in how well they understand the
needs of the practitioner. Personally, my feeling is that theory isn't useful
to a practitioner without a practical component. That doesn't in any way
invalidate the need for abstract theory, since (see below) a sound understan
ding of the theory should underlie our work, but theory by itself is not the
aspect of technical communication that most of us focus on.

<<3. Which skills are valued most in this field?>>

The ability to write well is still the most important, but other skills are
being mentioned increasingly: use of specific tools (less important than the
ability to learn new tools in my opinion), the ability to work in teams,
research skills, self- or peer-editing skills, and sensitivity to audience

<<4. Are good writing skills the only job requirement?>>

No (see previous question), but they're by far the most important one: you
can't be a writer unless you can write. The other skills increase your value,
but they're not why you were hired.

<<5. How much of your writing is influenced by rhetorical or technical

When I started out, I don't think I really had any formal theoretical
background, though obviously I'd internalized all the standard rules for good
writing that I'd learned in school. Since then, I've done an enormous amount of
reading and thinking and writing about what I've read and thought and how it
relates to what I've actually observed. So I'm a much better writer and editor
now because I have a far superior understanding of how my audience reads and
thinks and what I need to do to support these activities. That is, I now
understand why I do what I do. I rarely make a conscious analysis of a writing
problem based on rhetorical theory nowadays, since I've internalized most of
what I do well enough that I just do it. But the theory's still there in the
background when I need to analyze a problem in some depth.

<<6. If you could receive additional instruction in any area what would it

It would be to work with a really good editor, like Don Bush, who could show me
more of my own blind spots and help me break out of the patterns that have
become habits. That's not to say that my current set of habits don't work well,
but rather to note that there are many things about my writing I'd like to
improve. (I strongly suspect that when you lose that desire to improve, you
start to stagnate and the quality of your work drops.)

--Geoff Hart ghart -at- netcom -dot- ca
Pointe-Claire, Quebec, Canada
"Most business books are written by consultants and professors who haven't
spent much time in a cubicle. That's like writing a firsthand account of the
Donner party based on the fact that you've eaten beef jerky."--Scott Adams, The
Dilbert Principle

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