Re: Whaddaya know? (long)

Subject: Re: Whaddaya know? (long)
From: <puff -at- guild -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 9 Apr 2001 17:22:40 -0400

> 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?

I don't know whether *you* believe it, but after something like
eight or nine years of watching the downhill slide of repeated threads
like "is it one space after a period or two" and "is it another THING
coming or another THINK coming" surveys requiring public posts from
every member of the list, I do :-).

> 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?

I agree that we should take ourselves seriously. I also think we
should always be open to learning what the rule is and why it works
that way. I don't think we should be obsessed with it, particularly
when it interferes in communicating with the reader (I keep waiting
for Plato to chime in). Most of all, I don't think it should take
priority over a focus on timely, correct, complete, concise, clearly
communicated information).

(I really need to find a good "c" word for timely, but PLEASE
don't take that as an invitation to start a thread on the topic, there
are at least ten or twenty posts worth of discussion of exactly this
in the archive).

> 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?

Plenty, in fact. Most of them couldn't recite them off the top
of their head, and most of them in fact can't sit down and type a half
page of code without committing at least one syntax error that the
compiler catches them on. That's why we have compilers :-). All of
this this is in spite of the fact that languages like C++ and Java,
complex though they may seem, are in fact quite simple compared to

On top of this, when you get into the real meat of programming,
as when you get into the real meat of writing, most folks have a
considerably more difficult time articulating why they make the higher
level choices that they do, in terms of design (what in writing would
be approach, organization, clarity, etc). I'm pretty weird in that I
can - I think it comes from my writing background - but even I can't
always explain it right off the bat (and sometimes never). Sometimes
it's a matter of intuition, which is not the same as saying it's

Steven J. Owens
puff -at- guild -dot- net


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