Knowledge of subject matter

Subject: Knowledge of subject matter
From: Edwin Dahlquist <Edwin -dot- Dahlquist -at- asu -dot- edu>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 27 Mar 2004 22:38:59 -0700 (MST)

Andrew Plato wrote:
<This is why every tech writing program should require students to take
math,science, and at least 1 logic course. Every student should be required to
build up a set of strong set of critical thinking skills. Moreover, their work
should be ruthlessly analyzed, criticized, and tested. They need to get used to
having their work laid bare and criticized.

Unfortunately, universities don't do this. In fact, they do the exact opposite.
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 the
students they can obsess over fonts, structures, and other nonsense night and
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 had
to undergo any serious analysis.

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

In short - these programs produce soft, untested people who are better suited
to substance abuse counselling then writing documentation. >

Let me guess--you were not a liberal arts major? This is an interesting post,
and brings up a lot of good points. The most important one is the limited view
that one's own experience(or opinion) is the best, and that everyone else's
experience (or opinion)is "wrong." It seems you are falling into the
same narrow, limited, pedantic mindset you define.

I don't know about that "soft, untested" thing. It makes it sound like
TWs should wear body armor and wave swords at the "wimpy, whiners" who
presume to take their jobs. A bit of a reach, and a little too much into
the "work as a battlefield" mindset, but if that is your opinion, you are of
course free to express it.

My opinion is that peremptory dismissal based on imperfect understanding of a
few key words is a major problem. Seriously. When I said "structure"
you seem to immediately dismiss it in a chunk with fonts as some simplistic
commentary on the value of grammar. "Structure" refers to the way people process
information, and is more related to cognitive psychology than fonts. You know,
those wimpy whiners with white lab coats who tell you why you think what you
think you are thinking?

Clearly, your opinion seems to be that the current crop of TWs, especially
recent graduates, are less than competent. Might that be because they have
failed to grasp that work is really imitation war, and that as a survivor of
that horrendous battlefield, you have earned (and might even deserve) their
respect and admiration? An interesting perspective. I would almost be willing
to wager that at least one of them dismissed you as a "lifer."

Finally, as illuminating as a couple of classes in math, science, or logic may
be, they would not do substantially more than provide the same background that
anyone with a technical bent can gain from reading on those same topics. We are
not all liberal arts majors ...


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