Do I have to understand the material?

Subject: Do I have to understand the material?
From: Andrew Plato <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 14 Aug 2002 10:59:52 -0700 (PDT)


As usual we're all nitpicking over detials. So lets make this nice and simple:

ATTENTION: The use of the word "you" in this post does not mean you personally. I
am directing this at a faceless nobody for rhetorical purposes. If you have
chronic "take everything personally and get offended" disease, then delete this
post immediately.

1. Do I have to understand the material I am documenting.

Yes, if you want to be a good writer. The only way to write authorative material
is to have authorative knowledge.

If you want to be a crummy, half-assed, just slide by and get the bare minimum
done so I can go home and get drunk - then no. Stick to obsessing over fonts,
building elaborate processes, and complaining about commas.

2. What if I don't understand the material?

Start learning, ASAP. Drop the processes, fonts, style guides, and one-off "fun
work" and start learning your employer's technologies & products.

3. But all I do is rearrange text, edit, and apply styles.

You're not a writer. You're an editor. But, still knowing the content will help
you edit better.

4. But isn't my ignorance a benefit, because I am more like an end-user?

No. Ignorance is NEVER a benefit? In order to communicate to the end user, you
must know what information to communicate. You have to be able to pick the
correct and relevant information out of the stack. You can't do that with any
degree of skill if you're content-ignorant.

You're supposed to translate technical concepts into user-friendly text. That
means you have to understand thos technical concepts - so you can translate them
properly.

5. But in my industry....

Ignorance is not a benefit in ANY industry.

6. How deeply must I know the information.

As deeply as is possible. Its not a like you reach a certain point and then shut
down and stop learning. You should start out with basic, working knowledge and
then learn and absorb as much as you can over time. To do this effectively, you
need to learn some basics - like math, programming, or operating systems. These
basic concepts help you learn details faster and with greater effeciency because
you can understand related information.

7. But how can I ever be an expert at all this? I have so many other things to
do?

Like what? Setup pointless processes? The core job of any writer is to consume
information, digest it, and then barf it back into a document. You can obsfucate
this 97 ways to Sunday with elaborate single-sourcing solutions, style manuals,
task force meetings, and STC committtees, but it does not change your job. And
remember, just because you think something is important, necessary, or a
"requirement" doesn't make it so. The remainder of the universe could care less
about your internationally recognized, STC-endorsed, highly publicized processes.
They just want information from documents.

If you have too many other things to do that are precluding you from learning the
technologies of your employer. Then maybe you need to reprioritize your work or
start looking for a new employer.

8. But aren't writing skills important too?

Yes, but not at the expense of content knowledge. You're half a technical writer
if all you can do is write. Remember, your profession has TWO components:
TECHNICAL and WRITER. You can't eschew one in favor of the other.

9. But isn't there a place for purely writing oriented writers who don't want or
care to learn about technology?

Yes, its called STC. :-)

10. Let me tell you about how it works at my company...

I don't care how it works at your company. If your company rewards and embraces
ignorance, then your company's days (and your job) are numbered. Ignorance is not
a valuable commodity regardless of how you spin it. You don't impress people with
your astounding ability to NOT understand something.

There, righty righty righty then. I'm completely cured!

Andrew Plato

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