Re: Whaddaya know? (long)

Subject: Re: Whaddaya know? (long)
From: "MMdeaton" <mmdeaton -at- mmdeaton -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 9 Apr 2001 11:18:56 -0700

Do I believe what I am reading? Technical communicators are discussing
whether or not we need to be able to explain the grammatical or style
"rules" or guidelines behind our writing? Do those of you who say we do not
also argue that you cannot define what "art" is, but you know it when you
see it?

Without a solid grounding in the English language, assuming it is English
you are writing in, and the ability to articulate its grammar, conventions,
style, and other elements, then we should be accused of "poisoning" the

How many times have I heard tech writers complain that we are not taken
seriously, or that managers thing anyone can write? We have to take
ourselves seriously, first. Aren't we supposed to be the experts?

How many programmers would get away with not being able to explain the
"rules" for programming C++ or Java? Why on earth should we be exempt from
being able to explain the rules of grammar and usage?

Every time I interact with a writer, it is an opportunity to teach; an
editor is first and foremost a teacher. My goal is to make the writer a
better writer by giving them good, solid fundamentals to use next time they
write so my job becomes easier. To do that, I have to be able to explain the
grammar or usage standards behind my suggestion or the change I made. If the
schools are not doing it, then I will do it one writer at a time. At the
same time, I will be doing what I can to make sure schools are teaching the
fundamentals of English grammar and usage.

When I was a hiring manager, I expected candidates for editing or writing
jobs to be able to explain to me, in an interview, what their philosophical
position on grammar and usage was, what references they used to determine an
appropriate use, and to take a test to prove they could practice what they

Mary Deaton
(206) 323-0701
New used books added today:


Lisa Wright wrote:
> >
> >.
> >
> > To defend, or perhaps just give some perspective on your experience with
> > people knowing their grammar, I must respond with a rhetorical question.
> > *Must* I be able to explain right away every grammar rule in the book
> > *during an interview?* I have to say, I find this akin to being asked to
> > explain Frame's autonumbering or some such tool procedure off the top of
> > head. If I've worked with it in the last month, I can probably explain
it to
> > you. If I haven't, then I may need a little time (say 30 minutes or so)
> > working with it before I can remember how to explain it to someone else.
> > Give me a day with a grammar book to refresh my rusted memory and I'll
> > good to go.

Dick Marguilis answered:
> No, Lisa, I certainly would not suggest that you _must_ be able to
> explain right away every grammar rule without looking it up. But I would
> say that you _must_ recognize the names of standard punctuation marks,
> _must_ know that a sentence has a subject and a verb, _must_ know that a
> hyphen is not a dash. And of course you _must_ be able to say, "I don't
> recall the exact rule, but I know where to look it up" (always a better
> answer than, "Whatever!").
> Yes, in each case I took the opportunity to have that discussion, and
> several people who are still in consideration expressed an interest in
> learning. Again, my disgust is not with "the quality of candidates these
> days"; it is with an educational system that gets suckered by snake oil
> salesmen peddling (NOT pedaling!!!) their cockamamie pananceas to
> educated but fundamentally stupid school administrators.
> Dick


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