Re: Knowledge of subject matter

Subject: Re: Knowledge of subject matter
From: Andrew Plato <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 28 Mar 2004 22:18:58 -0800 (PST)

"Edwin Dahlquist" <> wrote in message news:233803 -at- techwr-l -dot- -dot- -dot-

> Let me guess--you were not a liberal arts major?

I was a liberal arts major. (You probably know my school, its just south of
you: University of Arizona) So what. I also learned that science and math are
valuable skills.

> 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 never took a tech writing class, a computer class, or a management class in
college. Yet I can write tech docs reasonably well, I am a nationally
recognized expert on information security (see this week's Computerworld, I was
quoted in a story about the witty worm), and I run a successful business. So
clearly, taking (or not taking) a class in something isn't a measure of

I am narrow minded sometimes. But, I've seen what works and what doesn't. And
when tech writers stand around debating theories of how people see and think,
its usually a bad sign. It means that they are trying to figure out some
"theory" they can adopt that invariably involves people NOT writing documents
and holding more meetings and forming committees. That leads to "very bad
things" - like shirking, font-fondling, and a whole plethora of behaviors that
should prompt the death penalty.

> 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.

Well, at least we agree there.

> 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
> information, and is more related to cognitive psychology than fonts. You
> those wimpy whiners with white lab coats who tell you why you think what you
> think you are thinking?

Understanding how people process information might be interesting in a psych
class, but it doesn't mean much when you're riding on deadline and sales are in
the tank for this quarter. There is nothing wrong with intellectual studies of
how we think and process information, but don't kid yourself, that stuff isn't
terribly useful on a day to day basis.

However, basic critical thinking skills are useful - every single day.

> 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."

The irony is - I am not a technical writer.

I think there are good and bad everywhere. I think the best writers are often
those with well rounded skills and strong critical thinking/analytical
capabilities. They have a thirst for knowledge and a willingness to learn.

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

I disagree with you. Math and science courses are extremely valuable to
anybody. They teach people how to be analytical and demand proof. Reading
Scientific American is not the same as taking a physics course or a chemistry

It also helps you learn how to acquire information and test its validity.
Something that very few tech writing graduates know how to do.

Andrew Plato

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