RE: tool nonsense (gearing up to be a tech writer)

Subject: RE: tool nonsense (gearing up to be a tech writer)
From: Alan -dot- Miller -at- prometric -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 1 May 2001 16:06:06 -0400

Quoth Jeff:

>This, to me is where your analogy breaks down. A carpenter should be able
to manufacturer >his own? Last time I checked, a carpenter is a woodsmith,
not a blacksmith. In today's >world, anyway...he just goes to the store and
purchases his planes, saws, et cetera. If no >tool were available, he could
create a lesser substitute, but he'd have to work with a >blacksmith to
create the hammer and saw.

Sadly, this is probably true. However, my experience (at Grandpappy's knee)
was one had better be able to make one's own tools. Traditionally,
carpenters have also been tool-makers (specialty one-off tools for a job,
jigs, dies, forms, patterns, etc.).

>>While I don't advocate a TW necessarily
>>being able to write word processing software, I *do* advocate being able
>>do the job with whatever tools are provided.


I think we agree an a lot more....

>>This is where the analogy falls down...carpenters take their own tools to
>>the job, we usually don't.

>We don't bring our own tools to the job. However, there are times when we
have to. And >freelancers have to provide their own tools, for the most
part. If you stretch most >analogies too far, their going to fall apart.

Which is why arguing from analogy is perilous. In formal logic, it's a
fallacy (but sometimes fun, nonetheless).

>> Also, I can live in a house even if the
>>carpenter used Stanley tools to build it and my toolbox is populated with
>>tools that were old when that chap from Nazareth was learning the trade ;

>What's the point? The final product is all that matters? While I agree for
the most part, >we're not talking about the final product...we're talking
about creating that final >product.

My point is some of our tools create proprietary files/formats, which
cannot be used without the tool except through a certain amount of pain.

>Again, analogies aren't meant to be stretched very far. It's obvious here:
we have to >provide our end users with the tools to access our works;
carpenters don't (although a >conscientious home owner would have adequate
tools to maintain his home).

Exactly why analogies are logical fallacies. And you make a very good

>>-{). Carpentry is not about tools, it's about shaping wood into useful
>>hopefully, pleasing) forms. The same is true of TW. We shape words into
>>useful (and sometimes pleasing) forms. Yes, we must be skilled with our
>>tools, but ultimately, the tool doesn't matter as long as the product is
>>successful (i.e., the client/boss likes it well enough to pay us).

>Carpenters, however, have to know how to use that tool to create the final
product. They >can't show up at a job and be productive if they've never
seen a plane before. If one >shows up to a job without his tools (in our
case, it would be how to use that tool), he's >going to hold up production
completely and probably be asked to leave.

Which is what I thought I said, though not clearly enough, or you wouldn't
have recast it.

>>Of course, you're entitled to your opinion...however misguided and
>>wrong-headed it may be ;-{).

>Sometimes, even in joking, you have to leave things unsaid. You should
have left this one >alone.

I'm an unrepentant and shameless smarta**. I *like* to tweak folks'
appendages and see what happens. We all need a hobby.

>My experience has been that companies are tool-oriented. They don't want
to hire someone >who has never worked with their tool of choice. While I
rate knowledge higher than the >tools, I believe that ignoring the tools
makes you unable to do your job. The beginning >writer, then, should spend
time learning them: especially the ones that are repeatedly >advertised
for. It's the only way to be in the market.

>Again, it takes a combination of tools and subject-knowledge to make it as
a technical >writer. Ignore either one and you're no longer a viable

Other than an offense taken at my smarta** closing, I can't see any
significant differences in our positions here. It's the job not the tools.
Tool skill is important insofar as it helps get the job done. I've
forgotten more tools than I can remember...or something like that. BTW,
Grandpappy was one hell of a carpenter.

Al Miller
Chief Documentation Curmudgeon
Prometric, Inc.

Cognito cognito, ergo cognito sum.
-- Ambrose Bierce


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