OT? Community and tech writing in real life (was Re: Ambiguous words and Phrases)

Subject: OT? Community and tech writing in real life (was Re: Ambiguous words and Phrases)
From: Tim Mantyla <TimMantyla -at- nustep -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Mon, 18 Feb 2008 14:03:57 -0500

This is one thread that's spilling over into "real life" issues, a
tendency which some readers on this list abhor. I'd like to comment on
spill-over in general, since it is and will always be an issue on lists
dedicated to a particular topic area.

I understand and agree that this is a tech writer list. It is devoted
primarily to tech writer topics--which spill over into other issues
occasionally. Sure, it's a balancing act to keep it on topic. But the fact
is, technical communication shares most of its ground with other kinds of

Also, if we all acted as tech-write-bots every moment of every day, we
wouldn't be part of a community--which is *also* an unstated purpose of a
tech writer list. We would instead be "Mr. Smith" in The Matrix, a machine
so overly efficient and incapable of empathy that it kills by
default--kind of how humanity acts in some places and some ways. The fact
is, we each have ideas, experiences and feelings that may (and should at
times) spill onto the list and even offend others from time to time. So
long as it's polite and sticks to the topic in some remote way, I hope we
encourage that kind of exchange, but in a limited way. Who defines those
limits? All of us, in essence, which means they'll always be fuzzy.

I support "real life" spillover occasionally, since our own lives revolve
in "real life" as well as our "tech writer life" bubble at work. The fact
that the ambiguous marketing writing referenced below is not obviously or
overtly technical in nature does not make the comments inappropriate,
IMHO. Clarity is a primary issue in any kind of writing.

Clear writing usually provides the best customer service and is one of the
most needed writing deliverables. Ethics demand it in certain areas, such
as when money is exchanged, as reflected in contracts. (The convoluted
credit card language Sen. Levin examined is simply terrible customer
service!) Because tech writers communicate about organizations'
intentions, efforts, products and views, clarity and ethics both fall
within the tech writer's scope.

Why not explore more on the ethics of communication? Some corporations try
to weasel out of responsibility or into your pocketbook using ambiguous
language. This has real life implications and brings up issues of morality
apropos to technical and other communication. Writers have a
responsibility to the larger community, not just their employer, IMHO.
Corporations should, too, but some don't because many laws governing
corporations aren't tough enough to protect consumers from some
profiteering, inhumane corporate leaders.

The purpose of this list is to serve the tech writer community's needs.
Communities encompass people (and sometimes other creatures) with
overlapping as well as disparate needs and goals. Ken's (for example)
needs or interests may not coincide exactly with yours in this particular
area. With that in mind, does it make sense that he has a right--perhaps
even a duty, arising from his inner self, intuition or other impulse known
only to him--to offer the tech writer community his unique experience here
nonetheless? I found his post refreshing and stimulating, and saw in it a
useful comment on tech writing issues.

I love the TV spot with James Lipton (Inside the Actor's Studio) speaking
for a customer who mentions her phone experience with customer service:
"Ahhh. Humans...acting humanly." Part of being human is to constantly push
boundaries and expand experience; so list topics spill over into real life
issues. Next year we may see a list devoted to ethical issues in tech and
other writing as part of that expansion. And if some thoughts from that
list spill over here, I won't mind one bit.

To paraphrase Devo: Are we not men--and women?? We are tech writers...

Happy Monday, Week, Year and Lifetime,

Tim / Tech Writer +++++

The Bigger Picture: If each of us considered our larger community in many
of our activities, would we have collectively created the gap between rich
and poor that now threatens too much of humanity? Would Exxon glut itself
in the largest corporate profit ever by contributing to global warming,
while many are losing their homes, some 15,000 homeless struggle to
survive in Detroit's sub-zero temperatures this winter and Darfur's 3.5
million refugees cringe in fear of rape and murder at any given moment?

Let's think about ourselves as cells in a community body called humanity:
It's impossible for the whole body to thrive while other vital organs are
dying. Sooner or later, those with the least ability and greatest need
will bring us all down, unless we care for each other.

> From: "Dan Goldstein" <DGoldstein -at- riverainmedical -dot- com>

> Hi Ken,
> This is a tech writing e-mail list.
> Happy Friday,
> Dan

> From: poshedly -at- bellsouth -dot- net
> ...the medical director of
> one insurance company during a videotaped deposition for a lawsuit
> where he acknowledged that while his signature is at the bottom of
> one particular letter, his "signature" is really only on a rubber
> stamp used by others to do what they will. In other words, HE
> doesn't / didn't actually deny or agree to anything -- it was the
> beancounters issuing "medical" decisions with his "signature".

> It's like years ago when they said you know it's going to be a bad
> day when you find Mike Wallace and the "60 Minutes" film crew
> awaiting your arrival at your office.
> -- Ken in Atlanta

> > V. Suresh wrote:
> >
> > Isn't there a need to give more clarity to a customer than that?? What

> > do you say?

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