Re: techwr-l digest: May 21, 2003

Subject: Re: techwr-l digest: May 21, 2003
From: Chris <cud -at- telecable -dot- es>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 22 May 2003 10:06:56 +0200

Plato says:
We all learned grammar and language skills in grade school. Some people are obviously better than others at language skills, but every single person in the world who has attended grade school has language and grammar skills. Thus, language skills are common and easily acquired.

Well actually, if you side with Chomsky on this, language and grammar are innate, and people who never go to school acquire the particular parameters for the specific language (or languages) in which they're immersed just the same as school children do. So just about everybody in the world who falls wthin a fairly broad range of "the norm" has language and grammar skills.

But then there's formal language, which is often different from everyday language. All those grammar classes in school are meant to reinforce the formal usage. There's no guarantee that a person will ever be immersed in formal usage -- I suspect those who are have a better chance of turning into decent techical writers if that's what they want to do.

Technical writing often introduces a conflict between formal usage and vernacular (jargon?). Sometimes the formal constructs render a statement meaningless, sometimes the vernacular is so specialized or overloaded as to make a statement meaningless... Content free, as one of my favorite people used to say. To think through this type of problem a person needs a formalized understanding of (yes!) both the formal language and the vernacular (and the concepts underneath *both* of those things). The solution to such a problem is a matter of judgement - an authorative opinion, according to my pocket Webster's. Opinions gain authority with formalized knowledge of the subject. Some people can formalize their understandings via their own analysis, others need to go to school.

The ideal candidate for any software writing or editing position would have invented C++, already written "The Encyclopedia of Everything", contributed a minimum of 50% to the OED, have an MBA, and would have run a PR firm for a minimum of 12 years. This person isn't applying for the job. People have strengths and weaknesses. People join together to form teams. They help each other out. They get the job done, even if the star has to slow down a little to bring the rest of the team along. Ignorance of some part of the problem space is not unpardonable - it's expected. Refusal to learn is unpardonable - failure to learn is unfortunate and may be cause for dismissal. Another unpardonable sin is getting in the way of somebody else's learning. Take note.

Chris Despopoulos, maker of CudSpan Freeware...
Plugins to Enhance FrameMaker & FrameMaker+SGML
cud -at- telecable -dot- es


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