Re: Rhetoric And Technical Writing?

Subject: Re: Rhetoric And Technical Writing?
From: "David Loveless" <daveloveless -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2006 21:25:57 -0700

If I may be so bold as to offer my thoughts on the subject. I tend to
ramble, so please hold on....

First, let's establish a definition. This definition comes from
Merriam-Webster's online dictionary:

1 : the art of speaking or writing effectively: as a : the study of
principles and rules of composition formulated by critics of ancient
times b : the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication
or persuasion

I think that alone qualifies rhetoric as highly relevant to technical
writing. However, M-W also defines rhetoric as:

2 a : skill in the effective use of speech b : a type or mode of
language or speech; also : insincere or grandiloquent language

Definition 2b makes it a wee bit shaky in my mind for effective
communication, and I think this is the more commonly understood
definition of the word.

But to take it further, let's face a fact here. TECHNICAL
DOCUMENTATION IS BORING!!! I'm sorry, but if you believe that anyone
besides another technical writer actually reads your documents front
to back, you're living in a dream world. Please come find me and take
me with you.

In my current position, I have tried to move away from the boring
technical writing of the past. In a recent survey, we found that a
whopping 91% of our users hated (not disliked, or neutral) our current
manual. That is an awfully big number. In further chats with users,
they found the manual boring, deep, and useless.

Since I was hired to repair this situation, I've decided to approach
this manual rhetorically. My writing is still technical, but it is
written more for comfort. The design is inviting. I've used color.
I've asked my reader to come in and join me. Isn't that rhetorical

I've taken liberties with "best" practices and turned the manual on
its head. In recent testing, it has had an outstanding 100% favorable
response. More importantly, over half of my responders actually READ
the manual even though they are all far more expert in the product
than I.

Now, if you define rhetoric using that second definition, I can see
how technical writing is not related to rhetoric. That kind of writing
and communication creates more problems than it solves.

I guess it all comes down to a matter of definitions. I, for one, feel
that the word rhetoric has pejorized far more than it ever should
have. It was once considered a high art, but someone along the way
decided that rhetoric was manipulative or something. I'm not sure. Any
one know for sure the history of the word? Fortunately, I had a
teacher who once taught me the original meaning of the word. I think
that is the definition that Joe was trying to convey.

Thus I close my ramble.


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RE: Rhetoric And Technical Writing?: From: Bonnie Granat

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