He said...She said...He said...etc. (Was Re: What's A TW Got To DO To Get A Job Around Here?!)

Subject: He said...She said...He said...etc. (Was Re: What's A TW Got To DO To Get A Job Around Here?!)
From: "Melody Akins" <melodyakins -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 20:57:08 -0600

Hello, and wlcome to the (BRRRR!) "What Constitutes Technical Writing"
debate, Round One!

With all due respect, that sounds like a challenge, Andrew. Would you care
to 'assign' me a particularly difficult subject (outside the realm of
bioelectromagnetics or motherhood)? on which to expound? Or is your
posturing and pontificating prose, just that, sir? I have the following
complaints, to which I hope you will attend:

1) You have attributed statements to me that I did not make, and have then
proceeded to respond to them.
2) You have taken statements I DID make, out of the context in which they
were written, and then criticized them.
3) You have distorted the intent of my e-mail, and used my e-mail response
as a jumping-off place for yet another impassioned plea for...what, Andrew?
Must we all 'become' doctors, or scientists, or engineers, or software
designers, in order to write in those fields?

What follows is the ONLY point-by-point examination of your writing that I
will ever do, on this list or privately:

First, let it be known that the ONLY portion of Andrew's reply I was
actually responding to is repeated below Here's the context:

Andrew Originally Wrote (Sunday, February 24, 2002 4:34 AM): "Reprocessing
text from an SME isn't writing. That's clerical work. Writing demands
learning about something and then building a document from the knowledge you
have borrowed, gleaned, or gathered."

To which I Originally Responded (See my post of February 24, 2002 2:04 PM):
"If writing is a form of communication, and the gobbledygook spouting from
the lips of some scientific, medical, or engineering SME, needs to be
translated into normalhuman, then 'reprocessing text from an SME' is
definitely writing, and TECHNICAL writing at that! (etc...see post)"

To which Andrew responded (My comments from here on are en paren): No it
isn't. (Andrew's personal opinion) That is editing (No, Andrew, it isn't.
It's writing.) WRITING means to learn a topic (No again, Andrew; writing
means to learn SOMETHING ABOUT a topic), understand it (No again, Andrew;
technical writers need to do some 'review of the literature' type research
on the topic, so they will understand ENOUGH to know if a phrase or word is
being incorrectly used, or if the context is in need of amplification--and
if amplification is needed, to go to the designer / developer / engineer /
scientist / whomever, for clarification. Granted that, the more experience
in a given area TWs have, the less often they will have to go to the
'source' for an OK on the amplification.) , then write something from the
ground up about that topic (No, Andrew, technical writers are not
NECESSARILY qualified to write 'from the ground up' about anything. I think
you are confusing TWs with NON-FICTION writers, who surely must have some
depth of knowledge in their choice of topics. TWs must submit their writing
to the scrutiny of the person or persons who ORIGINATED the SUBJECT MATTER
about which they are writing; the only person or persons to whom an
ORIGINATOR need submit his/her writing, are paycheck-writers and
Andrew said: In fact, being able to translate technical gobblygook takes
very specialized knowledge of a topic because you have to interpret the
concepts in one environment to the concepts of another. (Sorry, Andrew.
Being able to translate technical gobbledygook takes a minimum of knowledge
as stated above; what it REALLY takes after that is the ability to READ FOR
CONTENT--or its LACK--and to then construct the analogies that will bridge
contexts. "(Interpreting) 'concepts' in one environment to the 'concepts' of
another...." is a sentence that has no meaning, but who cares? 'Concept' is
close to 'context' in the early morning hours!)
Andrew said: For decades now, organizations and some "tech writers" have
tried to push this idea that a skilled writer does not need any "content
skills." That all the content issues could be shuffled off to SMEs and the
writer could remain blissfully ignorant, focusing instead on drafting
templates and consternating over gerunds. I point the finger, as usual, at
STC which beats this idea into members telling them they are accomplished
technical writers when they have no technical skills and don't actually
write anything. They just maintain documents, apply styles, reformat text,
maybe clean up English here and there.

To which I reply: I don't respond to rhetoric and contumely. Besides, I
have no knowledge of what the STC does or does not do. Sounds like a
horrible organization <grins>.
Andrew said: Writers, WRITE. That means they learn about a topic
(Yes...ABOUT) and then write about it pulling from their own knowledge as
well as reference sources (such as SMEs) (No, Andrew. That's what
NON-FICTION WRITERS do. TWs do NOT 'pull from their own knowledge'--at
least, they'd better not, unless they're working with someone very closely
or have had years of experience. This is a fine point--and a very important
one, worthy of further debate-- and while I completely agree that a TW must
have some knowledge of the topic about which he/she is writing, the arbiting
difference here is that the TW MUST submit finished CONTENT to the
ORIGINATOR for critique and final approval.
Andrew said: People who reprocess text from SMEs are editors, desktop
publishers, "documentation specialists" or some other trade - but they are
absolutely NOT writers. (TWs ADAPT existing knowledge--knowledge NOT THEIR
OWN, or we'd all be forced to 'BE' who we WRITE FOR-- to fit a SPECIFIC
audience. That's darned hard work, and worth every penny it gets!)

I said: Having worked from the 'clerical end,' in attempting to transcribe
the notes of a forensic psychiatrist (definitely a subject matter expert), I
can tell you that KNOWING something, and being able to produce an end
product that is understandable to its intended audience (in this case,
'normalhumans'), are two vastly different things.

To which Andrew responded: That is illogical. Based on what you just said -
you can be totally ignorant of
a topic but still communicate perfectly with an audience about that topic?
(Ridiculous, Andrew, and you know better. I did not use those words at all,
so you are setting up a straw man.)

Andrew said further: Sorry, that's impossible. You cannot communicate
effectively if you don't understand what you're communicating (Now you're
knocking down the straw man.)
I said: I completely agree that technical writers will benefit from picking
a niche and learning the (don't hit me, please!) 'lingua franca' spoken
therein. One of the best ways to do this is from the 'clerical' end.

Andrew responded: Possibly, but knowing jargon (as we determined earlier,
in a lengthy post on the LF subject, lingua franca is much more than mere
'jargon.') and editing English is not the same as writing (Again, you are
responding to something I did not say.) To write something, you have to
start with nothing (God, I hope not! You start with creds and experience
and the ability to ASK QUESTIONS of both the subject matter and the
ORIGINATOR.), learn about the topic (again, ABOUT), and then build a
document. If you are handed a pre-thought-out paper that merely needs some
editing - you're not writing anything. (I never said I was handed a
pre-thought-out paper.) You're just cleaning up somebody else's work. That
is what clerks and secretaries do (Andrew, you are not going to get away
with that. It's dishonest, untrue, and beneath your dignity. Clerks
normally--in a decently run shop, at least--do NOT 'clean up' anyone's
writing, as they do not have the editorial skills. Not always, but
certainly all too often, secretaries not only 'clean up' their supervisor's
work, they often do the research, put together the slides, write the
comments, and then submit THEIR ORIGINAL WORK to their employer, so he/she
can then present the material and get the credit--not to mention the money!)
I said: By the way, an experienced executive secretary earns more per annum
than a newly-minted PhD, if money is an issue. The reason for this is that
a good secretary can COMMUNICATE--can a new PhD?

To which Andrew responded: An executive secretary also will become trapped
at a certain income point (undocumented statement but probably true--or else
I'd still be working as an executive secretary!) and has extremely limited
career opportunities (opinion based on no personal experience in the field.
In fact, when layoffs come, the executive secretary is usually kept on
because the existing boss/new boss couldn't function without him/her.)
Whereas a PhD will have virtually unlimited income potential over his/her
life (not if she/he can't write--or doesn't have access to a good TW-- I
> Andrew Plato
> Melody Akins
"Take the Shoes Off Your Mind!"(c)

Now's a great time to buy RoboHelp! You'll get SnagIt screen capture
software and a $200 onsite training voucher FREE when you buy RoboHelp
Office or RoboHelp Enterprise. Hurry, this offer expires February 28, 2002. www.ehelp.com/techwr

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Re: What's A TW Got To DO To Get A Job Around Here?!: From: Andrew Plato

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