RE: What to look for in a technical editor

Subject: RE: What to look for in a technical editor
From: "Mark Baker" <mbaker -at- ca -dot- stilo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 22 May 2003 14:17:21 -0400

> Missing the point. Engineers as a class should not be assumed to have a
> "failure of imagination" simply because their imaginations are
> more focussed
> on product design and problem solving rather than role-playing as an end
> user.

Not missing the point. Didn't say that. I said:

Engineers, who want to learn
the internal operations of everything,
cannot conceive that the general
public is not like them in this respect.
It is this failure of imagination,
not poor language skills that make
them (often) poor communicators.

I said "this" specific failure of imagination. I did not suggest that
engineers have a lack of imagination in general or that they lack the
capacity for imagination. I said that they commonly fail to exercise the
necessary imagination in attempting to communicate with novices.

> We all have different locii of focus and imagination. Being in a
> different
> space does not imply "failure". Look at it this way: Does a tech writer
> have a "failure of imagination" when it comes to design implementation?

Yes, of course they do. I have seen lots of tech writers make singularly
unimaginative suggestions about product design. Similarly, I have seen lots
of engineers make singularly unimaginative suggestions about how to document

This is not to say that engineers cannot develop the knowledge and
experience necessary to exercise the imagination required to be an effective
communicator. I'm sure many of them can, if they choose to put in the time.
What I think is indisputably true is that many engineers regularly make the
attempt to communicate with novices and regularly fail to perform the act of
imagination that would enable them to do it well.

> No, because the imagination of the tech writer is a moot point
> when taken so
> far out of his element.

It's not moot at all. Failure is more likely when you attempt to do
something that is out of your element. It sounds like you are complaining
that the failure doesn't count because you were out of your depth. But what
do you expect when you are out of your depth? Engineers are likely to fail
when they attempt to communicate with novices. Tech Writers are likely to
fail when they attempt to do sophisticated product design. I am likely to
fail if I try to play goalie for the Ottawa Senators. But if I try and fail,
my failure is still failure. It's not moot.

> I'm sure he could come up with a very imaginative
> and very wrong solution.

You are misusing the word "imagination". Imagination is not the facility of
creating fanciful nonsense. That is mere fancy. Imagination, properly
understood, is the ability to place yourself in another's shoes, to see the
world as another sees it. It is also the ability to change you perspective
and to see the world in a different light. It is a necessary and difficult
part both of invention and communication.

It a solution to a problem is very wrong it may be very fanciful, but it is
not very imaginative. A truly imaginative solution would be right. Perhaps
right in a new and unexpected way, but right.

> Comparing the imaginations of engineers and tech writers is like comparing
> apples to oranges. One cannot be assumed to be less nutritious than the
> other--they're just different.

Exactly. Which is why engineers are likely to suffer a highly specific
failure of imagination when they attempt to do a task outside their field of

> Further, this "failure of imagination" would seem to preclude
> engineers from
> becoming tech writers. I haven't disappeared in a puff of logic yet :>

No. it doesn't preclude it. It does mean that, to be effective, the engineer
will need to cultivate the kind of imagination required to do tech writing
well. And of course, an engineers that moved to tech writing without
developing their faculty of imagination in this way would not disappear in a
puff of logic. They would simply be a bad tech writer. And God knows they'd
have lots of company. (Of course, many engineers who become tech writers
only write for other engineers, and so have little need of a writer's
imagination. Most people communicate well to people like themselves.)
Mark Baker
Senior Technical Writer
Stilo Corporation
1900 City Park Drive, Suite 504 , Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1J 1A3
Phone: 613-745-4242, Fax: 613-745-5560
Email mbaker -at- ca -dot- stilo -dot- com

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RE: What to look for in a technical editor: From: Kim Roper

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