Re: The Big Lie (was 'Are You a Writer?')

Subject: Re: The Big Lie (was 'Are You a Writer?')
From: MichaelHuggins -at- aol -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 04 Mar 2002 13:50:08 EST

>My impression is that, prior to the early Nineties, technical writers
were far more likely to technologically-oriented than they are now.
However, I wasn't in the field then, so I can't be sure. Can any
veterans on the list comment?<

I have been a tech writer since '85. I honestly don't know whether there were more "technical types" or former liberal arts majors back then, so I can only relate my own experience. *All* the tech writers I knew or worked with or for at that point, and for some years afterward, were liberal arts majors who learned their fields as they went along.

The man who started the tech writing concentration and graduate program at my college had his Ph.D. in Spenser. The first tech editing job I had, editing medical manuscripts, was under a man with a Ph.D. in Russian Literature, who had worked at Centers for Disease Control and later Oak Ridge Labs before coming to the university department where I worked under him. The woman I worked under editing aircraft maintenance manuals at a major corporation was ABD in Renaissance English Literature. A woman whom I replaced in two jobs (through networking, after she left voluntarily) had studied Robert Frost.

Whether my colleagues and supervisors were typical or atypical for their time, I honestly have no idea. It is interesting to me, in the light of the recent debate on content knowledge versus communication ability, that the Director of the Tech Writing university program, the Spenser Ph.D., scrupulously advised all of us doing the graduate program to take a course in programming languages in the computer science department, to improve our technical credentials. In that course, ironically, I discovered an instructor who, whatever she may have *known* about those languages, was almost completely incapable of *communicating* her knowledge in any linear, coherent way. Her inability in that regard was extreme, but some variation of that inability has been more typical than otherwise of many of the SME's I have encountered in various fields over the years, which is why I find myself definitely less than impressed at refusals to see our basic ability to communicate as our distinctive value. In my experience, many can write code; many fewer can write a coherent paragraph describing what the code amounts to or is used for.

Michael Huggins

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