Re: Favorite TW Book?

Subject: Re: Favorite TW Book?
From: Tom Murrell <trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 10 Dec 2002 06:41:57 -0800 (PST)

I don't have a favorite Technical Writing book, but I do have a few favorite books
on writing that I use.

First, the explanation. I'm sure there are good books on Technical Writing out
there, and I have no reason or intent to denigrate any of them. My approach to
Technical Writing has been the same as my approach to writing in other areas. Who is
my audience? What does the audience need? What is my purpose in writing to this
audience? What is the best way to get that message across to this audience at this
time? To me, these are writing questions; they are not limited to Technical Writing.

My bookshelf has a couple of style guides, a couple of rhetoric books, a couple of
usage books, and a thesaurus. For things not covered in these books--and nothing is
covered 100% in any book, even CMOS, MMS, etc., I have several online resources I
can consult for answers to questions that arise. I have as many technical books on
my bookshelf; these books relate to the specific technical skills I'm using or
accessing at the moment.

In my experience--and your mileage may vary--Technical Writing books tend to focus
on the management of the Technical Writing Project. There is nothing wrong with
that. If a writer is inexperienced in managing a writing project, these books are
invaluable. I'm sure any and all are useful in some degree, and sometimes it's a
matter of taste as to what one prefers.

Finally, my opinion on style guides. They are very useful in helping resolve writing
issues both within a writing department and for a lone writer developing several
documents or sets of documents over time. I recommend that you pick one and go with
it. It really doesn't much matter which one. They're all arbitrary because style is
pretty much arbitrary. One space or two is an arbitrary decision. Indented
paragraphs or not is an arbitrary decision. Capitalize this or that word, phrase,
abbreviation, or acronym is an arbitrary decision. If you pick a style guide, I
would expect it to give you either a preferred spelling or guidelines for making
those decisions. Stick with it. Supplement it only if necessary for your specific
project needs. But don't obsess about it. Style guides foster consistency in
presentation when they are followed. However, they are only opinions.

One final suggestion I would make. Study the documentation developed by others.
Even, or especially, the books on Technical Writing can be great sources of examples
of how to do things. Look at your computer manuals, even if you don't need the
information. See how they are organized. See how others handled certain presentation
issues. Study how others do their presentation. Study is how you can learn how
Technical Writing is done.

Thus Endeth The Lesson. :-)

Tom Murrell
mailto:tmurrell -at- columbus -dot- rr -dot- com Last Updated 10/28/02
--First keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others.
Thomas a Kempis (1380 - 1471), 1420--

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