RE: The Origins of Techwriting (WAS:Re: Techwr-1 polls)

Subject: RE: The Origins of Techwriting (WAS:Re: Techwr-1 polls)
From: Sandra Charker <scharker -at- connectives -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 16 Nov 2000 01:57:22 +1100

At 12:37 AM 2000-11-15, you wrote:

I think it would be an interesting project for someone do a history of
technical writing. While it seems that technical writing as a profession is
a rather recent phenomenon, technical writing has been around for a long
time (since the beginning of humanity).

A couple of years ago one of the STC publications reviewed a book in the Baywood Technical Communications Series called "The Emergence of a Tradition ; Technical Writing in the English Renaissance, 1475-1640", by Elizabeth Tebeaux (published 1997, ISBN 0-89503-175-2).

The focus is on how-to books, and it's interesting to see task-oriented writing, and characteristics such as numbered steps, plain prose style, predominantly active voice, and an emphasis on clear layout and labelled diagrams, developing over the same period as Marlowe and Shakespeare were transforming English poetic drama. In Chapter 1, Tebeaux says:

"...Like modern technical writing, Renaissance technical writing differs from other forms of writing not in its cultural or its intellectual orgins but in its purpose, the aims of its discourse. It was this purpose, as it shaped content, that gave English Renaissance technical writing its character and made it as valuable to English Renaissance readers as literary, devotional, leisure, and historical reading published throught the period...

"...we can begin to see that technical writing is as much a philosophical product of the Resaissance as is Dante's *Divine Comedy* or Giotto's *The Last Judgment*. As the works discussed throughout this study will show, technical writing is a basic form of humanistic expression. It stands as testimony to the Renaissance belief in the power of literacy to transform human existence. With its purpose of helping the individual to perform specific tasks in daily life and work, to live well, to prosper physically and financially, and to acquire knowledge by reading, it asserts the worth and the power of the individual to control human destiny."

A nice thought to take into the next battle over schedules and resources :-)

Another study I'd like someone to do would be a comparison of military manuals across forces. I have 2 maintenance manuals from WWII, one from the British army and one from the US marines, for the same analog anti-aircraft gunnery computer. The contrasts are fascinating, but I don't know how typical they are or why they exist, and I'd like to. Anyone looking for a thesis topic???

Sandra Charker

mailto:scharker -at- connectives -dot- com

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