Re: The 'user' in User Manual

Subject: Re: The 'user' in User Manual
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher5 -at- cox -dot- net>
Date: Mon, 05 Feb 2007 14:11:12 -0800

Susan W. Gallagher wrote:

For a professional writer, grammar is an important tool of the trade. If I am interviewing writers and a candidate cannot tell me what an imperative sentence is, what passive voice is, or why diectic pronouns require clear anticedents,

they don't get hired. Period. No mater how nice they seem or how good their portfolio looks.

The editors, at the time when I started tech writing at a b-i-g software publisher, were grammarhawks who worked as enforcers of the company's style and editorial policies. The company had invested heavily in the development of their original style and editorial guides, which were produced for them by academic authorities who created a customized system of rules, controlled vocabulary, look-and-feels, and so on. The publisher went to all of this trouble and expense because they wanted impeccable credentials in the new software marketplace. I remember the editors as a formidable part of the document review gauntlet, and I think they were often there as one-on-one interviewers to whom I talked, before getting hired (or not) onto a new project. A writer who was easy prey for the grammarhawks would not be long lived at that company, if they ever got in at all.
I think things are more relaxed there now, especially since they ceased putting big pieces of documentation into the shrinkwrapped boxes.

I don't really believe that the majority of my technical audience members cared so much about my formal knowledge of grammar, but as a hired hand I had to produce and discourse with the editors about writing, which could easily have meant talking in formal terms about grammar.

In my case, I never really knew, until I worked with editors, what use I would ever make of my grade school coursework in Latin (with all of its cases and declensions, and voices and moods and modes), and diagramming sentences, and taking composition classes... I was never a language or literary major in college, but I got a big whack of that stuff in prep school.

Then too, it's a technical writer's job to learn things, and most revel in doing so. In my more than 20 years of technical writing, I have never encountered a *talented* technical writer who wasn't eagerly accepting of new knowledge about the tools of the trade or the technology on which they're working.
You've said that very well!

Ned Bedinger
doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com

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RE: The 'user' in User Manual: From: Susan W. Gallagher

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