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 22:41:57 EST

Andrew Plato writes:

> Just because you didn't "get it" doesn't mean the instructor did not
> communicate properly.<

That's true. She didn't communicate properly because her presentation was incoherent and disorganized. That was also, as it happens, the reason I didn't get it.

Interestingly, she was out for a week at one point, and another instructor came in. Unlike her--and unlike many of the SME's I have subsequently dealt with--the substitute's presentation was clear and logical. Had this person been the regular instructor, things might have been much different.

> Communication, remember, involves two parties. There has to be somebody on the
> other end who is listening.<

They are more likely to continue listening if they are not being reminded of something as obvious as this.

> The problem with most SMEs is they don't sugar coat
> information. <

Sugar coating is irrelevant. There is no emotive content in discussing mainframes or LANs; we're not talking about notifying next of kin following a tragic accident. We're talking about the ability to provide context, describe things clearly, and construct a logical sequence.

>It tends to fly out in raw, unabridged manner indicative of their
> technical prowess. This doesn't mean they are incapable of communication<

Yes, it does. Effective communication is not "raw" and "unabridged."

> its
> just that their form of communication does not suit all audiences.<

In fact, it often suits only one audience: those who happen to know as much as they do. In fact, your own letter comes close to admitting that, as we see with the following:

> Most
> engineers communicate very well with each other.<

Exactly. And since other engineers aren't usually signing the checks or buying or using their products, someone is needed who can help them communicate with someone *other* than each other.

> I don't know sign-language,
> but two people "speaking" sign apparently can get a lot across. Just because I
> don't get it doesn't mean their communication ability is bad.<

If any of this is relevant to the issue at hand, it might not be a bad idea to make it clear before the evening is over. Pending that, the next time I see a product manual illustrated in American Sign Language, I'll remember that you warned me.

> The trick for any writer is to be able to effectively communicate with both
> sides of the picture: SME and audience.<

This is also extremely obvious, extremely well known to everyone here, and a point that we really don't need to be instructed on. Knowing such a thing is also a trick for any writer.

>And the only way you'll ever be able to
> communicate effectively with SMEs, is to possess *some* of the knowledge and
> skills they possess. <

*Some* was not what was argued at the first. The original posts on this topic erected an overstated and invalid dichotomy between knowing almost nothing and knowing practically everything.

> The fact is - everything communicates...its just that the communication might
> not be what you want to hear (or read).<

That becomes particularly true if the speaker undertakes to inform me of what I am already as well aware as he is.

> People generally don't like to hear information that disagrees with them or
> sets them down a course they don't like. We all do this. Its called
> "filtering." You pay attention to stuff you find interesting and you ignore
> that which disagrees with you.<

Another observation that is completely irrelevant to this topic. We are not talking about politics here but matters of fact. If someone chooses Novell instead of Ethernet, there's really no issue, for me, of liking or not liking what they have to say about it.

> For example, there are people in the world who honestly think the world is
> something like 5000 years old. These people adamantly refuse to listen to
> anything that contradicts this idea. Does that mean that the people who publish
> articles that show that the earth is much older are bad communicators? No, it
> means that some segment of that audience doesn't want to hear that.<

Again, if you eventually mean to say anything about technical writing, you should attempt it before it gets too much later.

> The only way to judge the effectiveness of communication is to analyze what
> information made it across and how well it was received. Therefore, just
> because an SME didn't deliver information to you in a manner you found
> pleasing, does not mean that person is incapable of communicating. It could
> mean you lacked the proper "protocols" to communicate effectively with them. <

It could, indeed. And then again, it could not. Since you don't know the people I've communicated with and weren't there, I'd say that further speculation is pointless.

> The act and process of communicating is innate to all living beings Michael.<

The act of not communicating what is extremely obvious and as well known to your readers before you ever say it is innate to all *effective* communicators, Andrew. Since neither my SME's or my readers are butterflies or shellfish, I still find myself wondering, as I have for much of this post, what point you are struggling to make.

> Therefore, you're not exactly brining a heck of a lot to the table when you say
> you're a better communicator.<

Why that's true. It's not from *saying* I'm a better communicator but from *being* one that I, and others like me, bring something to the table. I'm sorry; I hadn't realized your misunderstanding of the point was so basic.

> And if you don't know what you're talking about, people won't listen.<

You might be well advised to take your own advice.

Andrew, I have no doubt that you'll answer this, and I'll let you have the last word on the topic. Exchanges with you remind me of a recent meeting with a Vice President of Business Development who informed all of us, in a portentous tone, that "Value added activities are those activities that truly add value."

The ability to communicate is, it is true, common to all organisms. We are not talking about the dancing motions of bees or displays of plumage in birds. The kind of communication that a technical writer is good at is the kind that engineers and other technical types are often not good at. If you are experienced in technical writing, which you seem to be, then you are in as good a position to know that as I do. Why you persist in arguing against what you must know perfectly well to be true is mysterious, but a mystery I no longer find it worthwhile to solve. On this point, I am afraid you will have to argue with yourself.

Michael Huggins

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