Re: job title nomenclature on biz cards

Subject: Re: job title nomenclature on biz cards
From: David Neeley <dbneeley -at- oddpost -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 19 Aug 2004 12:29:22 -0700 (PDT)


It seems your own particular prejudices are showing again.

When I first began an assignment at Nortel, documenting a campus-grade switch called the MSL-100, I was handed the engineering documents for a new feature which was the primary addition in the upcoming software release. As usual, my job was to thoroughly learn the material as described by the engineer (an Indian gentleman whose English was enthusiastic but rather obscure), then to render that understanding in terms that could be easily understood and applied by the switch technicians in implementing the new feature and by both the customer's network engineers and marketing people in understanding and communicating to their customers about the added feature.

Before I was handed the assignment, I had known nothing about this function of a digital switch. It took me nearly a day and a half to figure out what the engineer was saying in a manner that could then be communicated clearly and succintly. From eight pages in the engineering document, including six diagrams, the resulting document was three pages with one diagram and a small table that covered the information thoroughly and yet succinctly.

I would guess this is not unlike the assignments of many other technical writers. In this case, the resulting material was both a distillation and a total restatement of the original design documents. Although I didn't "start with a blank screen and compose it solely with my pre-existing knowledge" neither did I serve only as an editor.

To take your argument and understand how nonsensical it is, let us understand what it means to be a "technical communicator." In a very real sense, most technical knowledge is derived from the work of others--whether that be in books, white papers, monographs, articles, or whatever. If we take your assertion literally--that we must already possess the "technical knowledge" but without "improving others work"--then I would suppose we must dispense with all sorts of technical books and materials necessary for most of us to attain the technical knowledge of which you speak, or we are reduced to "improving others work" and cannot therefore class ourselves as technical communicators.

Bunkum, pure and simple.

Anyone who can produce materials on technical subjects that are useful in instructing others about the subject--specifically, those who have an interest or a need to understand it--would be a technical communicator. If the person in question is highly "technical" is nearly beside the point. While some engineers become outstanding technical communicators, others who are equally gifted may have acquired their expertise working in the field and doing the research necessary for creating successful projects.

In fact, there are certainly some facets of technology that require a much deeper understanding of the underlying science than others do. Documenting microcircuitry, for example, for an audience of engineers who use that documentation in determining how to incorporate the circuit into other designs...that would indeed need a highly technical understanding even to grasp the design documents.

As I mentioned in another thread, we too often confuse being "schooled" with being "educated"--and a gifted writer who insists upon a high level of quality in the finished product will do the research necessary to create it. If that writer is "highly technical" in background or not, what matters is the finished product that meets the client's expectations and the customers' needs. There are obviously some who have mastered sufficient levels of technology to work happily and successfuly in their area but who may have little formal technical training. Several of the most gifted and successful technical communicators I have known, for instance, had been anthropology majors.

To observe that there are people who seek employment as technical writers who have little understanding of technology, and that better training should be available as a lifetime proposition for those in the field--I would completely agree with both assertions.

Beyond that, I'm afraid, I believe your argument overstates the case.

If I were seeking to employ someone as a technical writer, I would seek a person who can take the materials and resources available in my situation and, using them, create high quality materials for the users of my products within the constraints of time and budget with which I operate. If the person can do that, I am quite willing to grant that the term "technical writer" is appropriate. If the person cannot, I have no interest what they put on a card one way or another.



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Re: job title nomenclature on biz cards: From: Andrew Plato

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