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

Subject: RE: The Big Lie (was 'Are You a Writer?')
From: "CB Casper" <knowone -at- surfy -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 05 Mar 2002 22:37:00 +0400

>My impression is that, prior to the early Nineties,
technical writers were far more likely to be
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 graduated as with a BS in Aeronautical/Mechanical Engineering
degree in 1978. The following is my perceptions of the TW world
from my perspective through the ages. I learned basic English skills,
in spite of my schooling, from my parents. Writing skills were not
included in Engineering studies at the time.

A Manufacturing Engineer takes other engineer's designs and
determines how to build the product. I only had a sparse course
in Manufacturing, with very little experience in actually using
the machine tools in the school shop.

Our expertise was to determine the sequence of steps to build
detail components and assemble them into complex products. The
SME becomes fuzzy, the designer for the design, or the Mfg Eng
for how to build it. The best designs came from us working
as a team to incorporate producibility into the product.

Most of the Mfg Engrs had come from the shop, used the machine
tools, were sharp, imaginative, and good learners. They learned
the processes from the inside out, with little schooling in either
writing or engineering. They struggled with the software tools
and produced acceptable, but not well written instructions.

We created text only instructions, with no formatting possible,
beyond step numbers. We referenced drawings for technical details.
We told people how to sequence the installation of 400 rivets
referencing a 36 page E size drawing.

This was, at the very core, technical writing, though we never
considered ourselves as such. We were Manufacturing Engineers.
Technical expertise first, eloquence second. Part of our job
was to go to the shop floor to solve manufacturing problems
and keep the shop working.

I continued in this mindset until the late 90's. The tools
evolved through MacDraw, GEM draw, Word, Interleaf, to Frame,
indifferent companies, but we were still Manufacturing Engineers.

The create-minimalist-documents & the fully-document camps
emerged within the ranks of the Mfg Engrs.

The minimalists felt that supporting the shop floor was the
justification for their jobs. They wrote poor documentation so
that they spent most of their time on the floor interpreting
their own documentation.

I felt that the best measure of my success as a Mfg Engr was
that the shop floor did NOT need my assistance. The
documentation was sufficient to stand on it's own.
I thus became, in my own mind at least, a technical writer.

This was not a popular, nor prevalent attitude
in the aerospace world, unfortunately.

I don't know about other areas, but this was fairly
typical in the aerospace industry.

I never saw a non-technical major enter into this
sector of the technical writing arena.


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