Re: What to look for in a technical editor

Subject: Re: What to look for in a technical editor
From: Chris <cud -at- telecable -dot- es>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 23 May 2003 09:55:23 +0200

Sure wish I could resist the temptation, but...

It is also true that some technology practitioners
(engineers, scientists, system administrators, etc)
may possess above average language skills. But
good technical writing requires more than the absence
of technical errors and linguistic solecisms. It requires
a FLAIR for communicating in print (or other visual media).
The chances of finding those skills in a technology
specialist are very slim across the general population.

Again, this is an awfully narrow view of the universe. Just because a
scientist doesn't think its necessary to spend 6 months designing FrameMaker
templates, doesn't mean he suddenly is unable to communicate. Most scientists
put their focus on what matters - content. And content will always be
overwhelmingly more important than any style guide, FrameMaker template, font,
or single source system could ever be.

Actually, the guidelines for submissions in scientific journals are usually quite strict. That argues against the both of you. The writing has to be acceptable and communicative, and it has to adhere to style guidelines, guidelines for citations, etc. Increasingly, scientists have to compete in terms of flair to get into the journals that have prestige.

I have read a number of books written by scientists that are quite wonderful, BTW. I wish I could write like that... It takes a passion for the subject, as well as all the other things we're harping about. Read Stuart Kaufman's books on chaos theory. Read S. J. Gould on anything. Read E. O. Wilson, Fritz Perls, Silvano Ariatti... Read Lynn Margolis or Carl Sagan. Fun stuff!

I've repeatedly pointed out, much to the deep chagrin on the font-fondler
community, that some of the most influential documents in human history
contained virtually no formatting, are cumbersome to read, and break just about
every STC-seminar rule you've ever heard. Read some of the RFCs for the
Internet. Or better yet, read some religious texts. Here are documents that
break every possible tech writing rule, yet they have had a more profound
impact on human history than any single-sourced help system you, I, or anybody
on TECHWR-L has every developed.

These ancient texts may have broken the STC rules if those rules had existed. However, those rules did not. In fact, these texts were often ground-breaking in exactly the terms you're arguing (if I'm not mistaken - any *real* historians out there?). They either established norms or they adhered to norms - of style, structure, presentation, fonts(!), readability. And some authors faced the inquisition if they broke too many rules. I'd rather be burned by a non-technical editor, myself.

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


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