The debate that won't die

Subject: The debate that won't die
From: Andrew Plato <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2002 15:30:17 -0800 (PST)

"David Downing" wrote...

> Indeed. And I think this is why the infamous debate over whether it's
> more important for a technical writer to be able to write well or
> understand the content won't die. Yes, it is an artificial debate,
> because BOTH good writing skills and good understanding of content are
> important. But it's not a total no-brainer. The folks that want to
> argue that it's more important to write well have Mr. Cronin's point on
> their side. A person can be made to understand a given subject much
> more easily and reliably than a person can be made to write well. In
> fact, the ability to write well may be something you either have or
> don't have -- that can't be imparted.

Writing is like any skill. With practice you get better. Most people are not
forced to write very much, or write informally, so their skills never improve.
That does not mean they are incapable of writing, they just are not at the "top
of their game."

I disagree that some people have a writing gift. The ability to communicate is
inherent in all beings. Even cats and toads can communicate.

Knowing the language and how to put words together is step one. Step two is
knowing how to do that with some degree of efficiency and skill. Step three is
then figuring out what needs to be said to make people understand.

Tech writers, presumably, are at the "top of their game" when it comes to step
one and two. They can put words together and do so with some degree of skill.
Hence, the final (and hence most important) step is to make sure the RIGHT
ideas and concepts are being communicated.

> So maybe the debate isn't completely meaningless if we ask the right
> question. Instead of "Which is more important for a technical writer to
> have?" we should ask, "Which is more important to have if you want to
> learn to be a technical writer?" or "If an employer must choose between
> an applicant who writes well yet isn't familiar with the subject matter
> and an applicant who knows the subject matter but can't write worth
> diddly, who is the better choice?"

The person who knows the subject matter - always.

Why? Simple economics.

Markets value commodities (skills) based on three factors:

1. Demand
2. Supply
3. Accessibility

The greater the demand and the lower the supply and accessibility, the higher
the price.

For example, Water is in high demand pretty much everywhere.

In Oregon it is easily accessible and in ample supply, hence it is inexpensive.
In Arizona it is hard to access and in limited supply, hence it is expensive.

So, if we look at technical documentation as a simple economic problem, we can
ask these simple questions:

1. What is more in demand?
A. Technical skills
B. Communication skills

2. Which is less common?
A. Technical skills
B. Communication skills

3. Which is more difficult to learn (access)?
A. Technical skills
B. Communication skills

The answers to these questions are (to me at least) obvious. Technical
expertise is more in demand, it is less common, and it is harder to learn.
Communication skills are in less demand, more common, and easier to learn.

Therefore, the market has decided: technical expertise is more important.

When markets are allowed to decide the fate of commodities, there is growth and
wealth. This is why free-market economies are strong and stable and heavily
regulated or corrupted economies are weak and lame. Hence, if we allow the free
market to select technical writers it will choose those that exhibit the
greatest value for their respective employers...technical expertise.

Now, get back to work, YOU!

Andrew Plato

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