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

Subject: Re: He said...She said...He said...etc. (Was Re: What's A TW Got To DO To Get A Job Around Here?!)
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 26 Feb 2002 18:36:24 -0800

Martha J Davidson wrote:

I guess my experience has been a bit different from yours. I don't feel that
I can write credibly about something I don't understand pretty thoroughly.

I wonder if the difference between the two principles in this thread isn't the difference between theory and practice.

From a theoretical perspective, I find that Andrew's position is the only one that I accept and feel that I have any integrity. Writing without a good grasp of the subject feels fraudulent to me. I suspect that too many technical writers write with inadequate understanding, and, in doing so, justify the dubious reputation that the profession has with many developers. In addition, having inadequate knowledge makes me extremely insecure; too often, the SMEs I am supposed to rely on give vague or contradictory advice for one reason or another, and the only way I can sort through the replies is to become a bit of an expert on the subject myself. And, most important of all, when I understand the subject, I write a better manual, because I can anticipate more easily what the audience might do or need to know.

From a practical perspective, however, I don't always have the time to have as deep an understanding of a subject as I like. For that reason, I have sometimes found myself working more along the lines that Melody describes - in Andrew's terms, being more of an editor than a technical writer. Considering how often a tech-writer is put on a project near its end, I suspect that most tech-writers find themselves in this position at one time or another.

That said, I don't like being in that position, and try to get out of it as quickly as possible - even when it's not in my best interest. For example, one of the two companies I'm currently doing work for is keeping me completely away from the technical end of things. I can barely tolerate that when I'm doing layout, but the situation frustrates me. I can't even do decent marketing copy, let alone any technical writing under these condtions. As a result, I'm seriously debating not doing any more work for the company, even though the money is welcome in these times.

It seems to me that, in the long term, working without a reasonable understanding of the subject means accepting mediocrity and dependency. I can't work that way for very long without being frustrated and condemning myself as a cheat. Nor can I understand why so many writers are apparently content to coast along in this half-speed way. Even if their identity isn't wholly bound up with being a writer, I can't help wondering why they aren't more worried about giving honest value. Coasting along on other people's efforts is risking moral rot, so far as I'm concerned - but, apparently, I'm more than a little of a Puritan in such matters.

For me, it's not just a matter of collecting a pay-cheque. It's a matter of self-respect.

--
Bruce Byfield 604.421.7177 bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com

"It's as bad as it gets
The Surgeon General said, 'you're better off with cigarettes,'
If you must have your bad habits, why don't you stick to booze:
Love's been linked to the blues."
-David Olney, "Love's Been Linked to the Blues"







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Follow-Ups:

References:
Re: What's A TW Got To DO To Get A Job Around Here?!: From: Andrew Plato
Re: He said...She said...He said...etc. (Was Re: What's A TW Got To DO To Get A Job Around Here?!): From: Martha J Davidson

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