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The recent inflammation of single-sourcing/XML debates has once again
I had a thought today, that maybe will clarify my issue:
We cheer a baseball player, not because of the bat he uses, but how he
uses that bat.
We cheer a musician, not because of the guitar he uses, but how he uses
We trust a plumber, not because of the type of wrench he uses, but how he
uses that wrench.
We pay technical writers, not because of the tools they use, but what they
produce with those tools.
Here's the core problem. We have writers who are so tool crazy, that they
have lost focus on what tech writing is about. I know plenty of people who
are crack FrameMaker users, but they are terrible, awful, abysmal writers.
Why? They think the tool IS their job. Unfortunately, they can in some
The tool problem has become so pervasive, that you have tech pubs managers
who hire people based on their tool skill alone, and not the candidate's
ability to produce results with said tool.
And this is where our single-sourcing/XML debate rests. These tools are
very useful. But, they cannot make you a better writer unless you can
wield them to produce results.
Thus, every time I read claims like "XML and single-sourcing will make us
better writers." I just laugh. No, they won't. They may make us more
efficient and organized writers - but they will not make anybody a better
Writing is an inherently intellectual task. Tools merely allow us to
express thoughts and words in our head. A writer must possess the
intellectual capability to write - FIRST. That means knowing how to write,
how to organize ideas, how to abstract, and how to deconstruct complex
So, the first question any tech pubs department should ask itself before
they even utter the words "single-source" is: are we producing quality
results NOW with the existing system. Are our writers intellectually able
to write about whatever it is we do. Or are they all obsessed with tools
and style guides?
Tools don't write documents, people do. No tool in the universe can make
up for a lack of intellectual ability. That is, if you hand a moron a
powerful tool, they will just use it to produce garbage faster.
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