RE: Is this a typical technical writing environment?

Subject: RE: Is this a typical technical writing environment?
From: "Lippincott, Rick" <Rick -dot- Lippincott -at- flir -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 20 Feb 2004 15:15:40 -0500

Bill Swallow replied to my comments:
>>What you have to keep in mind is that when dealing with engineers,
>>frequently dealing with a mind that works entirely differently than a
>>tech writer's mind.

>No, we just like to say that because it gives us an excuse.

I believe that it is only an excuse if one uses it as a rationalization
for allowing errors.

It's getting away from the original question (and I know that's a highly
unusual event for this list), but here's an analogy.

Imagine that you're dealing with an engineer who does not speak your
language, and you do not speak the engineer's language. You cannot
understand each other. Your options are:

1. Having recognized that you don't speak the same language, you can
fail to communicate, fail to get the information you need, and then use
as an excuse "We don't speak the same language."
2. Having recognized that you don't speak the same language, you can try
to find a way to translate each others words and communicate.

If you're with me so far, note that in both cases the first thing that
you have to do is recognize that you don't speak the same language.

(So, I guess there's actually a third option: Fail to recognize that you
don't speak the same language, and keep scratching your head and asking
yourself "What is it with this guy? His mouth moves and sounds come out,
but I can't make heads or tails of it.")

This is fairly easy with languages, because the evidence is right there
in your face. (Ears are part of the face, right?) But when it comes to
different ways of thinking, it's more difficult to recognize.

This list has seen volumes of words about differences in societal
cultures, and the impact that those differences have on ways of
communications. Why would we expect -not- to see differences in
sub-cultural groupings that for lack of a better term we can call
"engineers" and "writers?"

Not so long ago, we spent some time on this list kicking around the
Meyers-Briggs test and there seems to be a consensus that many tech
communicators fall into the same grouping. The same thing is likely true
about engineers, and I doubt it's the same group that we do.

Recognizing that engineers and writers think differently isn't an
excuse, it's merely the first step towards bridging a communication
problem that has existed for a long time.

>I dunno, it sounds like good ol' miscommunication to me.

No, the engineer understood that significant changes to the interface
should go into the docs. He just didn't think that increasing the number
of menu pages from three to five was a significant change that would be
of interest to the user.

>We can go on and on about developers thinking differently than writers,
>about different values, bad processes, and such all we want. The cold
>fact is that to get anything done right requires good communication

I agree with your last sentence, absolutely positively. Where I
respectfully differ is that I do believe there is a difference in the
thinking process between writers and engineers, and if we follow a
course of action that assumes "Engineers think like me, so they'll
understand what I want" then we haven't really exercised the good
communication skills that you emphasize.

I mean, to use another (admittedly Friday afternoon) example, if I'm
here in the US and running a hotel, and a woman from the UK comes checks
in and asks "Please come round and knock me up in the morning" I may
-think- that I know what she meant because I understood all of the words
in the sentence, but I'd better be doggone sure of what I'm doing at
7:00 AM the next day.

--Rick Lippincott
FLIR Systems
Billerica, MA

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