RE: New TECHWR-L Poll Question

Subject: RE: New TECHWR-L Poll Question
From: "Dick Margulis " <margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 9 Oct 2001 10:14:01 -0400

"Christensen, Kent" wrote (replying to something John Garison said):

>re: Technical writers should avail themselves of ANYTHING that will let
>them communicate information clearly, concisely, and correctly.
>Yes, especially graphics. Perhaps it's true that the more one "says it with
>pictures" fewer grammar problems may arise. Fewer translation problems,
>too, of course. A quick, and really pretty good path toward

I've started to contribute to this thread a couple of times and then backed off, not quite having a handle on what's bothering me about it. But I think I see the problem more clearly now.

I agree with both John and Kent. But there is an unstated assumption in both of their responses: the assumption is that the practitioner knows what is clear and effective, outside the standard rules.

I can see where this is coming from, particularly in John's case, as I work with him. John communicates clearly and effectively. His use of the language is graceful, and he uses informal diction when it suits his purpose to do so. I don't know Kent, but I'm happy to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that his graphics add value and clarity to his explanations.

However, this list has a great many members for whom the use of language or the use of graphics is not their primary focus. Rather, they see themselves as technical first and communicators second. Certainly, and without pointing fingers at anyone in particular, we see posts every day that are crudely fashioned, to say the least. Some people, no matter what triviality they are commenting on, do so clearly. Others, no matter how helpful or insightful their thoughts, do so clumsily at best.

So I'm a bit frightened by the subtext of Deborah's poll question. It implies that it should be up to each of us as an individual whether we want to adhere to Standard English (sticking to English for the moment) or veer off into whatever other diction or dialect we feel like using. Certainly, if I were managing a team of writers, I would want to have a say in the matter. I think a company should have a standard for tone, vocabulary, diction, and graphic vocabulary,too; and I think that the writers who work for that company would do well to comply with that standard for the most part (not trying to be anal about it--certainly there are cases where the rules should be bent), whether that standard is Simplified English, formal Standard English, informal Standard English, military argot, or Gen-X slang.

I think it's all well and good to ask for the opinions and for a consensus among people who have demonstrated a facility for language. And it's fine for a lone writer to settle on a style that is personally comfortable. But I'm not at all sure that just _being_ a technical writer is sufficient qualification to decide that whatever one feels like doing is a sufficient standard for what constitutes clear and effective technical communication--whether written or graphic.


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