Re: Writing: better or worse after years on the job?

Subject: Re: Writing: better or worse after years on the job?
From: kcronin -at- daleen -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2001 07:47:00 -0600

Those are excellent questions, Rowena!

Tech writing (or writing for a living in general) can definitely have an
impact on your writing skills, but unless you're really careless, I think
it should improve them rather than harm them. Tech writing should make you
THINK about all aspects of your writing: audience, content, style,
clarity, etc. I don't see how increasing your skills and perspectives in
those areas could hurt you.

In addition to tech writing and sales writing, I also write fiction and (I
hope) humorous material. The biggest thing I have to do is remember which
particular hat I'm wearing when I sit down to write.

With tech writing, it's okay to over-explain, and important to use the
same terms and conventions very consistently. This lends itself to
repetitive, often cut-and-pastable verbiage, which obviously is a no-no in
fiction. In fiction, it's great to leave something to the reader's
imagination. But when writing a safety manual for a missile guidance
system, you don't want to do that!

Bottom line: different rules apply, but they're all based on what I think
is the writer's cardinal rule: know your audience.

The strength you can gain from tech writing is clarity. If your
documentation isn't clear, you did it wrong. This clarity can find its
place in your other writing, as long as you can free yourself from some of
the other necessarily pedantic practices that make up the skill set of the
competent tech writer.

Also, as with any daily activity, you can begin to fall into questionable
writing habits, and grow a bit lax. To combat this, I recommend frequent
"tune-ups." I re-read William Zinsser's "On Writing Well" at least once a
year. This book has solid advice for ALL kinds of writers. I also re-read
various Sol Stein texts on writing and editing, and Stephen King's
marvelous "On Writing." And of course, the "bible" - good old Strunk &
White. These all serve to offer some perspective, and a much-needed
reality check, at least for me.

I think writing as part of a team is a wonderful experience, with all the
advantages you mentioned. I've been mentored and I've mentored, and
consider peer edits invaluable. I miss working with a team - I think it
can raise everybody's performance when approached in a constructive

I see some experienced tech writers who take the art and skill of writing
for granted. This is particularly common in the techie-who-became-a-writer
scenario, as opposed to the writer-who-became-a-techie. I think it's
important to maintain an interest in both sides of this coin, and NEVER
assume that we're either good enough writers OR technical enough. There's
always more to learn!

Thanks for raising an interesting topic. Beats the heck out of Tool Wars!

- Keith Cronin


When I die, I want to go peacefully in my sleep, like Grandpa did, not
screaming like his passengers in the car.

-Jack Handy

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