ADMIN: Professionalism and personal attacks

Subject: ADMIN: Professionalism and personal attacks
From: "Eric J. Ray" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 6 Apr 2003 07:37:06 -0600 (MDT)

So, if I'm understanding this correctly, the current
uproar stems primarily from Andrew's response to the
Living Documentation doc.

I believe the issue was:

AP >This article has a number of questionable assumptions. But the big one is:
AP >
AP >"Because I am a technical writer, I understand that inaccuracies are not
AP >necessarily the fault of the writer, or even the editor. "
AP >
AP >Inaccuracies are 100% the direct fault of the author(s) and editors.And 99%
AP >of the time its because those writers and editors do not understand the
AP >technology they are documenting. Too much of the work is done in a vacuum w$
AP >editors who won't "dirty their hands" with technology or writers who
AP >consistently misunderstand how to use the very products they're documenting$
AP >
AP >Errors do happen. I just fixed a mistake in a white paper I wrote today. It$
AP >a dumb mistake, but as the author of the document, I am wholly responsible $
AP >that error.
AP >
AP >There is nothing wrong with building feedback mechanisms to repair, update,$
AP >correct documentation. And there is nothing new or original with "living"
AP >documentation. Publishers have been putting out revisions of material forev$
AP >But this doesn't change the fact that the people responsible for the content
AP >are solely the writers.
(Full posting also available at

Perhaps I'm just naive, but I don't see what's offensive about this.
There's a heavy dose of something that could be considered hyperbole
(overstatement used to make a point) or could be considered uninformed
and inaccurate assertions--depending on your perspective, of course--
but neither hyperbole nor bad information are patently offensive.
I've no idea what the actual percentage of incompetent tech writers is,
but I know it's greater than 0% and less than 100%, and Andrew has
no better a guess than I do what it is.

(Given that TECHWR-L has proven through hard experience that
hyperbole and overstatement are horrendously ineffective
means of making a point, I don't think that Andrew's rhetorical
strategy makes a lot of sense, but it's not a personal attack
by any stretch.)

His message was immediately followed by Jeff Hanvey's,
which began:
JH > Another Plato rant against writers. I really wonder sometimes if he actually
JH > writes, considering that his attitude towards his own profession is so
JH > disdainful - and every now and then, I get tired of him bashing us with his
JH > generalities.

It continues with a discussion of issues, then concludes, in part, with:

JH >While I will agree that there are bad writers out there, and that some of
JH >these writers are clever at covering up after themselves, I do not agree
JH >that 99.9% of all errors in the documentation is because the writer doesn't
JH >have technical knowledge. Such a generalization is basically an insult, a
JH >reflection of the attitude that we writers are incompetent baffoons, and a
JH >hold-over from the "tyrant grammarian" mindset that plagued instruction in
JH >English composition in the mid-twentieth century. More importantly, it is
JH >reflection of the "manager" attitude that all workers are just out to screw
JH >the company, to put the check in the bank, take office supplies, and avoid
JH >work by fondling their fonts, tweaking their tools, and piddling with
JH >processes.

While this isn't by any stretch a direct attack, it certainly skews
toward a discussion of personalities, not issues, and starts down the
"basically an insult" interpretation of the previous message.

In further travels down the road of personalization, Eric Dunn chimed in with

ED >Now unless an Uber-Writer wants to explain to us all how we are supposed to take
ED >100% responsibility and attain 100% accuracy and become 100% clairvoyant in a
ED >dynamic environment where the writer is not in control of the development or
ED >release schedule or process, I would kindly suggest they take their grudges and
ED >prejudices elsewhere.
and the agreement from Barbara Yanez at

and (sliding right down into the personal attack mire):

ED >Seems just like more of Andrew's patented loathing of techwriters in general.

ED >But in the highly critical, disdainful, pigeon holed, black and white,
ED >I am right the world is wrong world of certain list members such
ED >situations NEVER exist. A rediculous unsuportable generalisation is
ED >presented without any room for interpretation or qualification. When
ED >others attempt to qualify it never ending pathetic meta arguments
ED >arise about how many SMEs can dance on the head of a pin and what the
ED >acceptable undefinable gap in knowledge/responsibility between a
ED >fictitious undefined SME and a fictitious undefined writer in a
ED >fictitious undefined domain is.

This was followed by a posting by Andrew (his second on this topic),
which read, in part:

AP >Its not disdainful, its real. When somebody tells me that the reason docs are
AP >bad is because of processes, methods, or some other external source - I laugh.
AP >These are excuses. Amateurs and bureaucrats make up excuses. Professionals
AP >accept responsibility, fix the mistakes, and move on with life.
AP >
AP >And yes, I write all the time. I just am not a "technical writer" by title any
AP >longer.
AP >
AP >And if you're tired of feeling bashed, then delete my posts on sight.
AP >
AP >Why is it that the people who are constantly reminding the list of how tired
AP >they are of my ideas always seem to have an unlimited amount of energy to argue
AP >against me and belittle me. Apparently, your exhaustion with my ideas isn't
AP >very serious, because you have plenty of energy to point out how exhausted you
AP >are.


AP >Excuses, excuses, excuses. "We didn't get access and therefore we couldn't do
AP >good work." Bah. Its a writer's responsibility to get the information they
AP >need, by hook or by crook.
AP >
AP >People build processes because it gives them something else to blame, rather
AP >than themselves. Every process, procedure, or methodology created in the entire
AP >history of humanity is exactly as useful as the people using it. That means,
AP >when things go wrong, it is the people who are to blame, not the process.
AP >
AP >Thus, if an employer is "rushing through the development" then the writer
AP >should also be rushing through getting the information. Just because work is
AP >done in a chaotic manner, doesn't mean its now okay to produce crummy docs. It
AP >Chaos or lame planning doesn't suddenly give you a blank check to do a crappy
AP >job. More specifically, just because other people are doing shoddy work,
AP >doesn't mean its okay for you to do shoddy work.
Full posting at:

This was then followed by several other postings, culminating with these
gems from John Jones:
On Sat, 5 Apr 2003, John Jones wrote:
JJ >This guy is the one of the most negative, hating, miserable individuals I
JJ >have ever encountered outside a flamey newsgroup. What is this constant
JJ >rant on "taking responsibility"? Who made Andrew the tech writer police? Its
JJ >sort of attention-getting behavior i think. If you cant get a job in the
JJ >field, leave those who can alone.

and separately:
On Sat, 5 Apr 2003, John Jones wrote:
JJ >So what does Andrew Plato actually do for a living? And if not Tech
JJ >communication, why is he on this Tech Writer support list still, trolling
JJ >his ex-community? Why is he no longer in the profession? Sounds like
JJ >resentment stemming from something other than simply in the hypothetical
JJ >'who is smart enough / really deserves to call herself a technical writer.'
JJ >Sounds like a resentment of something more local, more personal.
JJ >
JJ >Just .02 since this thread has burned past the point of tiresome.
JJ >
JJ >There are solidarity-builders and then there are exclusionists and haters.
JJ >Judge who is who here.

Isn't that remarkable.

To reiterate, John Jones says:
JJ >This guy is the one of the most negative, hating, miserable individuals I
JJ >have ever encountered outside a flamey newsgroup. What is this constant
JJ >rant on "taking responsibility"? Who made Andrew the tech writer police? Its
JJ >sort of attention-getting behavior i think. If you cant get a job in the
JJ >field, leave those who can alone.

JJ >There are solidarity-builders and then there are exclusionists and haters.
JJ >Judge who is who here.

Gang, I've just spent well over an hour wading through this, and cannot
seem to find anything in Andrew's postings on this topic that's a
direct attack of any sort. He rails against a number of issues
and makes a case for technical writers acting as professionals
(well summarized by Al Geist: "as a professional, you
have to accept a level of responsibility" at

There's NOTHING wrong with Andrew's messages on this topic. Nothing.
He expresses an opinion that is about technical communication.
That's what this forum is for.

If you don't like the opinion, then rebut it. The argument--not the

Carry on...without the personal attacks. Comments about this message
to me directly, please, and if you're taking issue with my
interpretation, please do me the kindness of providing a summary
similar to this so I can follow the "he said/she said" trail and
understand your assertion.

ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com
TECHWR-L Listowner

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