Re: non-tech techwr better for end users (was "same boat")

Subject: Re: non-tech techwr better for end users (was "same boat")
From: "Christensen, Kent" <lkchris -at- sandia -dot- gov>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 2 Jan 2001 13:40:32 -0700

re: The freshness of the "non-technical" person can provide him or her with
an objectivity that more closely mirrors that of the TARGET of all our
writing - the USER ... (this) has never made any sense to me. How can
knowing less make you better at your job? Am I the only one who sees value
in knowing more than you need to tell your audience, or do others out there
really think that knowing only the information your audience needs is a

This should suggest something akin to peer review or user testing rather
than simply using inexperienced writers.

I'd offer the notion the term nontechnical tech writer is an oxymoron.
There are certainly technical aspects of tech writing in addition to knowing
the technical aspects of the product being described. I'm in favor of
knowing the latter, too, but regardless I find the term nontechnical tech
writer demeaning. (One technical aspect is that "non" is not hyphenated
onto the front of a word--just add it.)

Rambling on ... it is certainly an organizational challenge to team
technical persons such as scientists or engineers or programmers with
technical writers. Rather obviously the company is selling the science or
the hardware or the software and not the manual, and this naturally places
the techie in a dominant position with respect to the writer. (He or she is
also higher on the liability exposure scale.) When this interface isn't
managed well, the risk of demeaning the importance and skills of the writer
is increased, and oft times justification for hiring less qualified (read
less expensive) writers is attempted. And, quite frankly, in the face of
economic pressure it really does make more sense to cut back on writers than
on product designers--but not much more. Yes, there is motivation to invent
reasons for using those who know less.

Now, some could see use of terms like "organizational challenge" and
"managed well" and "economic pressure" as pretty obsequious and become more
strident and throw gasoline on the flames by saying it's all sexual politics
wherein design is seen as "man's work" and writing as "women's work" (note
how the former is always singular and the latter always plural) and that's
why this demeaning occurs. Not me, of course. Whatever it is, I'm
convinced it's going to continue to be a struggle and tech writers will
continue required to justify their worth to an extent beyond what seems
reasonable and obvious to us. A recurring thread for sure.

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