Re: Tech Comm Survey - Literacies of the field

Subject: Re: Tech Comm Survey - Literacies of the field
From: TechComm Dood <techcommdood -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 17 Oct 2004 22:12:19 -0400

> Well, like so much else, it depends. Certainly one needs to write
> literately. That is, a writer should be able to form sentences and
> paragraphs that native speakers of the language can read without
> wincing. A tech writer should have a certain degreee of cultural
> literacy attuned to the particular field in which he or she is
> writing--know the argot well enough to know when the target audience
> would find it pedantic and condescending to spell out an acronym or
> define a term of art. In many fields a tech writer should possess
> sufficient mathematical literacy to spot obvious errors in equations and
> calculations; enough engineering and scientific literacy to avoid making
> grammatically correct but factually absurd assertions; enough computer
> literacy to make sense of code, even in an unfamiliar language; enough
> business process literacy to draw a credible flowchart or org chart;
> enough graphic arts literacy to produce a readable, if utilitarian,
> document; enough software literacy to put together a Web site, design a
> simple database, construct a spreadsheet, .... What was the question, again?

Good start! :-)

I too am a bit baffled by the question. What exactly are you looking
for by "literacies"? And what do you mean by "successful professional
in the field"? Which field, specifically?

I'll argue that technical writing is not a "field"... it supports a
field, in a potentially huge way. Sure, you have your technical
writers who can create end user documents to support commercial
products. But to do that you don't need a considerable number of
"literacies" on your side. You need to think analytically, write well,
work with others well, have enough business accumen to figure out what
your end users need, and enough technical prowess to use the tools
necessary to develop the documentation. There, you're now a successful
professional who develops end user documentation in support of a

There are other skills required to be a successful professional in
your field of choice (by field I mean insurance, medicine, defense,
etc. - the business sphere you support by working as a technical
writer, whether it be within the scope of software development,
hardware design and manufacturing, chemistry, or what have you).

The first and foremost is domain knowledge. No matter how good a
technical writer you are, you cannot add much value if the scope of
what you know about what you're working on comes from others. You need
to know the business angle. If you're working on documenting an API,
you need to know more than what's in the API and how to use it. You
need to know why it's needed in the first place, the business problems
it helps solve, who will use it, why they would want to buy it, and
what gaps remain after it's implemented. You also need to have enough
knowledge of your competition to know how to address similarities,
differences, and perhaps be able to leverage your knowledge in
assisting the company to define or refine the business strategy for
the product.

No, you don't need these skills to be a good technical writer, but you
do need them to be a successful professional in your field.

Technical writers are a dime a dozen. Success should not be limited to
landing a job. Success is measured by your comtribution to the success
of the company you work for.

Does this help? Does it answer your question? I'd love more info from
you regarding these articles and their purpose. Otherwise I could
easily be steering you down a path perhaps unintended by your

Oh, and two questions for you, which will help in framing future
answers... What was your undergraduate degree in, and have you worked
as a professional in any capacity between the time you graduated with
your Bachelor's degree and the time you started your Graduate program
(if so, what did you do)?


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Tech Comm Survey - Literacies of the field: From: ccrim
Re: Tech Comm Survey - Literacies of the field: From: Dick Margulis

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