RE: craft vs. science

Subject: RE: craft vs. science
From: "Dick Margulis " <margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 21 Jun 2002 16:06:27 -0400

Phil Levy <PLevy -at- epion -dot- com> wrote:

>Aren't you talking about tools? Why can't the process stay be the same? Does
>a deadline change a process, or the final format? These things are
>transparent to the reader.


A process is mechanistic. I can conceive of an engineered process that would result in procedural instructions turning out largely the same regardless of who wrote them--because each person would be applying the mechanistic process to do so. I can even conceive of a piece of software that could do a credible job of writing certain types of procedures, given a presentation layer coded in a certain way: "1. Enter Name. 2. Press Tab. 3. Enter Title. ..."

I think technical writing encompasses more than writing field-level help, though. Part of technical writing involves imagining how the audience (a rather fuzzy concept when you get down to it) will best understand what it is you are trying to convey to them. Sometimes this involves deciding whether or not it would be appropriate to offer a homely analogy. Sometimes this involves deciding that a diagram would be most helpful.

Judgment and intuition come into play. Judgment and intuition are bought through experience, broad exposure to the ideas of others and the traditional practices of the craft, and reflection.

The best a process can do is formalize the state of one person's (or a committee's, perhaps) experience, judgment, and intuition at one point in time. Perhaps a process can include a mechanism for improvement based on experience, but it can never be proactively innovative. If you want innovation, you want craft.

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