RE: Calling all Technical Editors again!; Was, "RE: Writing Corrective Actions for customers?"

Subject: RE: Calling all Technical Editors again!; Was, "RE: Writing Corrective Actions for customers?"
From: "Leonard C. Porrello" <Leonard -dot- Porrello -at- SoleraTec -dot- com>
To: "Ned Bedinger" <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2008 09:16:43 -0700

Philosophy (BA), English Literature (MA), Technical Writing Certificate.
The reason I asked what you studied is that I'm still wrestling with
your statements from an earlier post:

"The minimum [qualification for a technical writer], to me, is a degree
in the technology you'll be documenting or editing".

This criterion would easily (and unjustly) disqualify every technical
writer I've ever worked with. To date, I've had a very successful
technical writing career. I've worked in cellular telephony, enterprise
resource planning, long-distance telephony, and data storage. My
employers have always been pleased with my work. Similarly, the two best
technical writers I know were not formally educated in math, science, or
engineering. One was journalism; the other, English Lit. Of course, we
all have an aptitude for understanding "technology". And contrary to
what you seem to suggest, I've found that it's the combination of formal
education in letters and technical aptitude that makes for the best
technical writers.

You also stated, "Documentation is NOT fundamentally about writing and
editing skills, so your training should, likewise, not be fundamentally
about those things. Documentation is 95% (to pick a number) about the
subject that is being documented"; And, "Thus, the course of study for
technical writing and editing would focus on math/science/engineering."

Interpreting your statements in the context of the email in which you
originally made them, I think we agree in principle. Namely, you can't
write effectively about what you don't understand. Nevertheless, the
statements I quote above can easily be interpreted to go beyond that
idea. I think the problem is that you didn't differentiate between what
the reader needs and reads and the process of writing technical
documentation. Consequently, I tend to think you have, perhaps, set up a
false dichotomy between subject matter and expression.

>From the perspective of what the reader needs and reads, I would go even
further than you. Ideally, good documentation is 100% about the subject
matter. Good technical prose ideally is transparent. The reader wants to
accomplish something. He isn't here to enjoy our prose in and of itself.
He will experience delight when what we write leads him to accomplish
his task effortlessly. On the other hand, regarding writing
documentation, it's easily as much about writing as it is understanding
the technology one is writing about. One doesn't write transparently
unconsciously, unwittingly, or by accident, and I have yet to see the
case where a talented yet uneducated writer has as much flexibility and
finesse as a talented writer who is educated in belle-lettres.

Can someone with education that focused primarily on
"math/science/engineering" be a competent technical writer? Definitely.
Will he be as good a writer as the person who focused his education
mostly on writing? I have yet to see the case. Let me put it this way:
Good writing requires as much intelligence and knowledge as good
engineering. Consequently, it would not be unfair to say that you can
expect an uneducated yet talented writer to be about as good at writing
as an uneducated but talented engineer will be at engineering.

Because technical writers are hired to write, I can't agree that the
education of a technical writer (or editor) should focus primarily on

Leonard C. Porrello

-----Original Message-----
From: Ned Bedinger [mailto:doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com]
Sent: Tuesday, April 22, 2008 6:25 PM
To: Leonard C. Porrello
Cc: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: Re: Writing Corrective Actions for customers?

Leonard C. Porrello wrote:
> Ned,
> You mention coming from oceanography and aquaculture, so I wonder, do
> you have "a degree in the technology [you are] documenting"?
> Leonard C. Porrello

No, I bootstrapped myself into software and some other technologies, but

my degree-oriented work has been zoology and policy/decision analysis,
and more recently GIS and cartography. In al modesty, I'm more of a
samurai for hire than an engineer or scholar, Cat;s out of the bag, eh?

What about you, Leonard?

Create HTML or Microsoft Word content and convert to Help file formats or
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Microsoft Office, team authoring, plus more.

True single source, conditional content, PDF export, modular help.
Help & Manual is the most powerful authoring tool for technical
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RE: Writing Corrective Actions for customers?: From: Combs, Richard
Re: Writing Corrective Actions for customers?: From: Ned Bedinger
RE: Writing Corrective Actions for customers?: From: Leonard C. Porrello
Re: Writing Corrective Actions for customers?: From: Ned Bedinger

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