RE: The Big Lie (long...very long)

Subject: RE: The Big Lie (long...very long)
From: "Cekis, Margaret" <Margaret -at- mediaocean -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 5 Mar 2002 15:58:30 -0500

Sean Hower [mailto:hokumhome -at- freehomepage -dot- com] wrote: "Wow, this thread goes
on and on, and there's so much to comment on...."

Also Bruce Byfield wrote:

<<<My impression is that, prior to the early Nineties, technical writers
were far more likely to technologically-oriented than they are now.... Can
any veterans on the list comment?>>>

I guess that I qualify as one of the veterans. I went to IIT to major in
architecture in 1962. After a year I had learned enough that I didn't want
to make it my life's work. Hand-lettering drawings was not my forte. (If
CAD systems had existed then, things might have been different.) Computers
were becoming a force in industry, and IIT's nascent computer programming
courses were in the Math dept., so I switched to Math. Because the Math
dept. was in the college of Engineering and Physical Sciences (instead of
Liberal Arts), I was required to take physics, chemistry, and math through

I also took a writing course. My instructor in the writing course (a Ph.D.
in English) was setting up a Scientific Writing major, and recruited me to
be a candidate for his new B.S. in S.W. degree. I let him talk me into it,
took biology (without a lab) on top of the chemistry & physics, added
linguistics and anthropology courses because I was interested in them, and
took Russian as my foreign language. The S.W. major courses included the
history of Science in Writing, courses in writing and editing, and in
information storage and retrieval, including library cataloging systems and
primitive database design.

The only courses I wished later that I had taken were organic chemistry,
statistics, and perhaps statics & dynamics. In 1966, my first job was as a
technical editor at a natural gas research institute affiliated with IIT.
My boss was a geologist who had slid into technical editing. My co-workers
had backgrounds in English & journalism. In most of my subsequent jobs,
where there were other editors or writers, there was the same kind of mix of
those with technical backgrounds who happened to be able to write and those
with liberal arts or language backgrounds who were interested in learning
the technical material that is found on this list today. I was a unique
entity, in that I had specialized degree, and that I had both writing skills
and a good generalized background in technical subject matter.

After more than 30 years in this field (and jobs involving natural gas
research, hospital consulting, home safety products, software,
telecommunications, cable TV, distribution logistics, carbon fiber research,
and, currently, internet media sales), there is no way I could have
predicted where the job opportunities would be. Most of things that I wrote
or edited manuals for didn't exist in 1966. I agree that some technical
background helps comprehension (physics gives you a good background for a
lot of engineering; some chemistry and biology are necessary to comprehend
medicine and pharmacology; math and a little programming make talking to
software SMEs easier), but unless you are aiming for a specialized niche
market like API docs or something, I don't think you have to know as much as
a product's designer or developer.

I side with the large segment of TWs that believe you have to be smart
enough to learn about a product and understand why and how it was designed
the way it was, and how it has evolved over the years, so you can
communicate the necessary information to the users, but you do not need to
know everything! What you know everything about may not exist in five years!
Can you learn about the new wonder that is replacing it?

Just my dime's worth.
Margaret Cekis
Margaret -at- mediaocean -dot- com

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