Re: Knowledge of subject matter

Subject: Re: Knowledge of subject matter
From: "Chuck Martin" <cm -at- writeforyou -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 2004 09:56:08 -0800

"Andrew Plato" <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com> wrote in message
news:233513 -at- techwr-l -dot- -dot- -dot-
> This is why every tech writing program should require students to take
> science, and at least 1 logic course. Every student should be required to
> up a set of strong set of critical thinking skills. Moreover, their work
> be ruthlessly analyzed, criticized, and tested. They need to get used to
> their work laid bare and criticized.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but mine did. In addition to the university's
general education requirements (which included minimum credits in
math/science), my Technical Communication degree program required additional
science/engineering credits.

Meenwhile, in my department programs, my writing was returned with ruthless
amounts of red ink--and I used that to learn and get better.

> Unfortunately, universities don't do this. In fact, they do the exact
> They create these cream-puff programs where people share their feelings
all day
> and never are forced to think critically about anything. Then they tell
> students they can obsess over fonts, structures, and other nonsense night
> day and be a respected writer. Then they trot in the local STC elders who
> reinforce this by showing their award winning documents - which never once
> to undergo any serious analysis.

Not one class in my program spent and significant time talking about fonts
and similar subjects. The exception was the class where we learned, among
ohter things, about the physiology of the eye and the psychology of how the
brain process what the eye collects, and how knowing that cna help you
design information that can be easier processed. Fonts were discussed under
the rubric of readability and comprehensibility (as that a word?), not about
which one was prettiest.

> This has resulted in a whole "sub-culture" of non-technical, technical
> who have commodity skills and thin skin. It also has produce a whole pack
> wimpy, whiners who cannot tolerate any form of criticism or critical
> When somebody stands up and says "hey, this is wrong" they cry and wail
> how unfair the world is and how dare you question them.

I'd guess--with no data to back it up--that many of the non-technical
technical writers were once non-technical writers who saw an opportunity to
earn living wages doing something they loved: writing. Because many at the
management and hiring level perceive that technical writing is "just"
writing, such non-technical people gained easy entry into the field.

That said, there are plenty of people who entered the field in this amanner
who have become good technical writers. By no means should every be tarred
with that brush. But a company isn't going to hire a programmer who owns a
computer and took one programming night class, but they will hire a
technical writer who has published a magazine article and took a technical
writing night class.

> Nonsense. This is the typical "ignorance is an asset" argument. Its
> nonsense. Ignorance is NEVER an asset.

Absolutely true. But no one knows everything about everything. Even experts
in a particular field--and technical writers are rarely experts in the
subject field.

Knowing what you're ignorant about means that you can set about to fill
those knowledge holes. Competence in the subject matter means that there are
fewer of those holes to fill--and you can spend more time documenting and
less time learning.

> Sorry, but you're wrong again. Writing is a common skill. Skillful writing
> simply a person who has taken a common skill and become advanced in that
> skill.
> Everybody, even managers, CAN write. They might not write well, but they
> write. Hence, with a little focus, practice, and training, even a manager
> engineer COULD write a useful document.
> Subject matter, like biotechnology, systems engineering, or tax law are
> uncommon skills. They are known by very few. The whole purpose of
> writing - its very reason for existence - is to gather "rare" information
> make it more accessible to other people. The reason technical writers
exist is
> not because they know how to format sentences or use FrameMaker, but
> they take information known by few and transform it into information
> for many. Hence, the tech writer uses a common skill, adeptly, to make
> uncommon knowledge more common.

Writing is a common skill. Technical writing is an uncommon skill. Writing
about a technical subject is not equivalent to technical writing.

With a little focus, practice, and training, you could learn biotechnology,
systems engineering, or tax law.

> That's nonsense. While methods and structures are helpful tools to help
> organize information, if you don't have the correct information, it
> matter how amazing your methods are - you'll still product crap
> Try this test: What would you prefer?
> 1. An exquisitely packaged, beautifully wrapped, highly organized box of
> feces.
> 2. A disorganized mess of gold bullion.

As with most things, it depends. If my goal is to fertilize a garden
(although animal feces are probably better for this task) or play a rather
disgusting practical joke, then the answer is #1. The world is not black and
white, and understanding your users' goals generates the more useful answers
to questions such as these.

Chuck Martin
User Assistance & Experience Engineer
twriter "at" sonic "dot" net

"I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. The day
may come when the courage of Men fail, when we forsake our friends and
break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day! This day, we fight!"
- Aragorn

"All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you."
- Gandalf


ROBOHELP X5 - ALL NEW VERSION. Now with Word 2003 support, Content
Management, Multi-Author support, PDF and XML support and much more!

Now is the best time to buy - special end of month promos, including:
$100 mail-in rebate; Free online orientation on content management
functionality; Huge savings on support and future product releases;
PLUS Great discounts on RoboHelp training. OFFER EXPIRES March 31!
Call 1-800-358-9370 or visit:

You are currently subscribed to techwr-l as:
archiver -at- techwr-l -dot- com
To unsubscribe send a blank email to leave-techwr-l-obscured -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Send administrative questions to ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

Previous by Author: Re: Re: Knowledge of subject matter
Next by Author: RE: Mozart Effect (WAS RE: Quiet workplace)
Previous by Thread: Re: Knowledge of subject matter
Next by Thread: Knowledge of subject matter

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads