RE: Tech Writing Curriculum

Subject: RE: Tech Writing Curriculum
From: KMcLauchlan -at- chrysalis-its -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 13 Nov 2001 11:45:06 -0500

BFA(*) follows:

Learn welding.

Welding is the joining of metals, usually by heating,
to form a single piece. (Yes, I'm ignoring plastics
for this simplified BFA.)

The object is to join the pieces strongly (and smoothly)
enough that they act as a single piece, in their intended

Therefore, the weld or joint should be as strong as
the joined materials (as far as practicable), and the
weld should not weaken the materials it joins. The shape
of the weld affects its strength. Preparation of the
pieces may be acquired, in order to achieve the required
finished strength and shape. There may also be cosmetic

There. That's it. Go forth and weld.

?Huh? Whaddya mean, "How?"

Oh, well, there are several kinds of welding, including
(but not limited to types using: electrical arc (including
plasma arc), combustible gas (oxy-acetylene and other
combinations), exothermic reaction (you can weld with
thermite, if you plan really, really well...), sound
waves and microwaves, and even the use of hard vacuum
and highly polished surfaces.

Read theory books all you want. You won't be an
effective welder until you've learned at least the
basics of the various tools (and there are many
variants). You don't need to know every last thing
about a Lincoln welder and a Geller and... you do
need to know that the techniques for Shielded Metal Arc
are different from those for Metal Inert Gas and that
Oxy-Acetylene is very different from either of those

Not only could you really mess up some expensive
materials if you don't know the differences, you
could also hurt or kill yourself and innocent bystanders.
(For example, several of the tools/techniques mentioned
will make a fine weld between two pieces of steel,
but you probably wouldn't want to use just any of
them... under water.)

Basic tools theory and technique is central to learning
the craft/trade.

What does all this have to do with Tech Writing Curricula?
I thought I mentioned at the start: the foregoing has been
a (*)Big Friggin' Analogy. :-)

The point is that some tools are in current, common use,
and since you have to produce your learning works with
*something*, you might as well learn the essentials of
a few representative tools while you are attempting to
learn theory and to put it into practice.

Learning ONLY to gather info, organize ideas and scribble
them with a text editor is not sufficient for most
techwriting jobs.
It should not come as a surprise to you that customers/
employers often are demanding about things like format.
They may not need a *particular* style or layout for
their instructional text (though many have strict house
standards), but they do demand that it be better-lookin'
than you can produce with Notepad. Most of the time,
they don't expect to need to hire another body after
you have finished writing, just to transform Manual.txt
into a page layout and book layout that they can
commercially print.

There are tools that not only CAN do such stuff, but
that you are expected to know and use with some facility,
while performing your major function of extracting info
and making it organized and accessible.

Word and Frame and Illustrator/Visio should *not* form
the core of a tech writing curriculum, but they (or
similar .... StarOffice, WP, K-office, the Gimp, etc.,
and let's not forget the HATs and webbish stuff)
need to be taught, sufficient to get everybody in the
class up to some minimum standard of "makin' stuff look
reasonably good".

The thing about tools is that once you've acquired a
workmanlike competence with representative ones, then
you can acquire others far more easily, because you
now know what to look for, and what they should be
able to do for you.

Because the use of such tools is so tied up in the
creation of technical docs, it does not make sense
to leave it to chance whether or not everybody in
the class has already been exposed and has already
picked up the needed set of skills.

For another brief analogy, I did not take an architect
degree nor a drafting certificate, yet I was made to
learn some basic drafting at the beginning of my years
of electronics study. Furthermore, while studying
electronics, I learned to use multi-meters and logic
analyzers and other more esoteric tools. The knowledge
was not haphazardly picked up. The instructors reserved
many hours to specifically show us what we could do
and what we needed to know about operating that kind
of equipment, in order to learn, design and debug
electronic circuits and systems.

Without the tools, it would have all been theory, with
no practice at application and no hands-on problem solving.
Without the instruction, some of us would have had
prior knowledge and biases and others would have been
floundering. The courses were intensive enough that
there wasn't time for hit-and-miss acquisition of
background skills.

The testing in drafting and the testing in tools did
contribute a tiny fraction to overall marks, but its
main function was to ensure that we were all at least
on the field when the REAL games began.

(I love the smell of mixed metaphors in the morning.)

YMPDVM [Your Mileage Probably Didn't Vary Much]



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