Re: Have to know Programming to be able to write about it? -- NO

Subject: Re: Have to know Programming to be able to write about it? -- NO
From: Andrew Plato <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2003 16:51:13 -0800 (PST)


No surprises here...

"Beth Agnew" wrote

> A student on this list wrote me with a question prompted by discussion
> around the Educational Opportunities to Pursue thread. Someone stated that a
> writer without programming knowledge is going to be less competent to write
> about programming than one who is also a programmer.

That is 100% true. I was the person that said it.

> The student wondered if it was necessary to take programming in addition to
> a technical communication program.

This student would be considerably better equipped to document software if
he/she had some programming skills. While it might not be necessary, a
programming class would be extremely helpful in understanding programming
concepts and requirements.

> Absolutely not. Any global statement such as "if you don't know X, you can't
> write about it" is inherently incorrect.

If you don't know X, you aren't going to be able to write about it with any
degree of accuracy or effectiveness. It is absurd to think that a person can
document something with any degree of authority or expertise if they don't
understand it.

And EVERYBODY thinks they are a quick learner. Very few really learn quickly.
Most slum along until somebody else does the hard thinking for them.

> Any good technical communicator can
> write competently about any subject.

Yes...that they understand.

> It is part of our profession to rapidly
> learn what we need to know about a new technology in order to convey
> information about it to our audience. By the same token, we don't need to be
> geologists to write about geoscience, or MDs to be able to write about
> medicine.

I wholly and emphatically disagree with you. A technical writer without
experience and skills related to the topic he/she is documenting is
significantly less capable of writing about that topic.

While you don't need to be an MD to write about medicine, you do need to
possess some subset of knowledge that an MD possesses to skillfully author any
medical documents.

> We DO however need the ability to analyze, comprehend, and communicate in
> the appropriate way, the necessary information about that subject.

Which means LEARNING that subject matter.

> This
> means we also need good interviewing skills to elicit information from our
> SMEs. We do not need to BE the SMEs.

No, you need to be able to communicate with the SMEs. And the only way you can
do that effectively is if you have a solid understanding of what the SMEs know.


> We need to be continual learners. But that doesn't mean we need to take
> formal education or training in every discipline we encounter. Learning
> occurs in many ways.

I strongly disagree. Writers should take some formal training in the
technologies they document. It will help them document those technologies
better. It will also teach them key concepts, terms, and methods that they can
use to communicate with the SMEs more effectively.

Moreover, SMEs generally have reduced respect for people who won't take the
time to at least learn SOME of the things they do.

Ignorance is not an asset. Ignorance is a hindrance. Ignorance of a topic makes
you LESS capable to document it.

Andrew Plato

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