Re: Are you a writer?

Subject: Re: Are you a writer?
From: MichaelHuggins -at- aol -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 01 Mar 2002 10:31:50 EST

>--- Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com> wrote:

> To elaborate on this point: I always have trouble with the claim that
> our specialty is communication.

It is, no doubt, unfortunate that someone should be "troubled" by what is self-evidently true, but it is a misunderstanding that, fortunately, the rest of us do not share.

> Perhaps I take the ability to
> communicate for granted

It would seem so. So fundamental a misperception handicaps anyone from the outset in attempting to say anything meaningful about technical writing.

, but I consider it no more than the basic
> requirement for the job. To say that a writer communicates is a
> tautology, and not very useful.

It is no more a tautology than to say that divers submerge. Communicating is what we do, and the ability to do so gives us our unique value.

The question should be WHAT are we
> communicating, not whether we are doing so, or how skilled we are.

That is utterly invalid. To assert it is not only to misconstrue what we do but to confess onesself captive to the same inability to move from the concrete to the abstract that technical writers ought to be expected to relieve in the first place. The question most certainly *is* whether we are communicating and how skilled we are at doing so. Once that is established, it is applicable to the "what" of many different fields.

After
> all, the ability to sling a memorable phrase or write grammatically is
> fairly common.

It is not really surprising, though perhaps a little sad, that anyone who characterizes his profession with such flippant and trivial terms as "slinging a phrase" should misunderstand the whole undertaking so completely. As to the ability to make memorable phrases or write grammatically being "fairly common," that is such an astonishing error of fact as to make one wonder where the writer has been for the last 40 years.

>The ability to structure material is much rarer

That is exactly correct and is the first valid thing in the whole post. However, it fundamentally contradicts what has gone before.

, and
> depends on the material itself.

That is perfectly absurd. It no more depends on the material itself than a chef's skill "depends" on whether he or she is preparing beef or pork.

>There are a lot of
smart
people who know English and can write well who are NOT writers.

There are also a lot of smart people who can recite whole persons of the Upanishads who are not technical writers. That is no doubt an amazing fact, but it really has nothing to do with our profession.

>Therefore, a technical writer has to bring something more to the table than
just the ability to communicate or use a desktop publishing tool effectively.
You could say, the minimum requirements to even be accepted to "writer
school"...

You *could* say a great deal, on a great many topics. As technical writers, we hope, sooner or later, to say what is valid and true.

For the past week or so, this board has been, um, "treated" to a series of posts that purported to say something about technical writing but in fact were meant to convey that no one was a writer except for a small coterie of whom the author might approve. The rest of us were challenged to either "live up" to this, er, "standard" or confess ourselves defeated and inadequate.

Fortunately, I think that most respondents have realized that however entertaining these letters might be, rather in the vein of a scene from "Alice in Wonderland," they had little to do with who we are or what we do.

Michael Huggins

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