Subject Matter Expertise-YES! Attack Iraq-NO!

Subject: Subject Matter Expertise-YES! Attack Iraq-NO!
From: Andrew Plato <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2003 00:11:13 -0800 (PST)

Sorry, no Iraq talk in here...

"Beth Agnew" wrote

> I must say I'm astonished that this seems to be such a foreign notion to
> so many people on the list.

I'm not. I have been infecting the list for years with my crazy ideas of
knowledge, expertise, and technical savvy.

I am astonished that there are still people in the world that honestly think
they can write with any degree of authority from a position of ignorance.

> I suppose if you are truly not convinced
> that it is possible to write competently about a subject without being
> an expert in it, then you will dismiss any such writing as inferior.
> Doing so, you invalidate the many excellent technical communicators who
> achieve this very thing day in and day out.

They don't achieve it. They get somebody ELSE to achieve it and then they just
pretty up the work. Sorry, but applying styles, cleaning up grammar, and
rewriting a paragraph or two does not constitute excellent technical
communications. Maybe excellent desktop publishing, editing, or administrative
work. But a true communicator - communicates. And nobody trusts a person who
speaks (writes) from a position of ignorance.

Likewise, interviewing people and just regurgitating their ideas isn't
technical authoring either. You have to digest, understand, and condense that
information and reconstitute it as something more than its original. That
requires knowledge of the related subject matter.

If you want to write about financial software, you should have a good handle on
financial concepts and software design and development.

> The expert is often the worst person to write about their subject,
> because they no longer see it with the naivete of the new user.
> Hence the manuals that leave out crucial steps because "tsk, everyone
> _knows_ you're supposed to do X before Y". Remember all those unusable
> manuals in the early days of computers? Written by computer experts, not
> communication experts.

Here we go again. I thought we squashed this bug in 1998. Ignorance is NEVER an
asset. A writer will never, ever do their readers a favor by being ignorant of
the topic.

Experts are absolutely the best person to write documents. Sure, they need good
editors and desktop publishers as well. But pushing styles around and obsessing
over fonts isn't anywhere near the same as authoring material.

> The best thing about this profession is the broad range of practitioner
> it embraces. It is inclusive rather than exclusive; no matter where you
> are on the continuum from writer to technician, you can find a place as
> a technical communicator.

That is the fundamental problem with tech comm. People with ZERO technical
skills and modest (at best) communication skills are selling themselves as
"technical writers." When they are neither technical, nor very good writers.

In the past we had editors, desktop publishers, copyrighters, and authors.
Authors did the writing, editors did the cleaning, and desktop publishers and
copyrighters did the layout and design. Today, (well, more so in the late 90s)
we have desktop publishers calling themselves technical writers - they are
totally incapable of writing any original content whatsoever.

You want to author technical documentation, you had better have some advanced
technical skills.

> Many of use have worked tirelessly to educate employers to this very
> fact: you do not need to be an expert in the subject matter to be able
> to write intelligently about it.

Yes you do need to have some expertise in the subject matter, Beth. And being a
full-blown expert doesn't hurt either.

And I am one of those people that will work tirelessly (okay, lamely) to
educate employers that they should demand technical writers to have some
subject matter expertise. And the trend seems to be tipping that way.

Face it. The era of the"non-technical, technical writer" is coming to and end

Andrew Plato

PS: The subject line is a satire of those Attack Iraq - NO! stickers you see
everywhere. It is not intended as a political message. Although, you have to
wonder, if Bush was a bit more of a SME on foreign affiars maybe he wouldn't be
so obsessed with single-sourcing a war in Iraq.

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