RE:classification -- was definition. . .

Subject: RE:classification -- was definition. . .
From: David Hailey <david -dot- hailey -at- usu -dot- edu>
To: Connie Giordano <connie -at- therightwordz -dot- com>, "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 5 May 2008 09:15:15 -0600

It seems to me that a number of posters have described "documentation specialist" calling that "technical writer." Of course, they are largely correct. Documentation specialists seem to be at the heart of the profession. But this still suggests that it is possible for a profession to be accurately described with two different names.

Yesterday I installed a cat door, using the documentation provided -- not very technical. Is the (altogether un-technical) documentation for assembly of a simple object technical writing? If you use a genre-based classification system, you might say "it is still documentation and documentation specialists are technical writers." I would not disagree.

At the same time, I could easily argue that even the most technical documentation is a subset of business writing -- at least in the sense that its purpose is to make a corporate product more usable, make the corporation more profitable. So arguably, in some cases the same profession can be called both technical writing and business writing. So it seems possible for a profession to have three names.

But not all technical documents can be called business writing. Scientific reports produced by the DOE are about as technical as a document can get, but a meaningful argument that they represent examples of business writing might be hard to make. In this case, "technical writing" and "science writing" seem to overlap the same professions but not "business writing." So this classification thing may be pretty complicated.

Look at the person who produces specification sheets for a technical industry. These are technical documents usually used for marketing. If you accept the broad description that technical writers make technical ideas meaningful to a variety of audiences, in some cases marketing writing and some technical writing seem to be the same thing.

At the same time some writers produce articles for technical magazines; science writers produce articles and books for public consumption; game narrators produce the stories behind the games we play on our computers and often participate in the production of the game. Which of them are not technical writers? The classification thing might also be pretty broad.

Many of our technical writing students graduate and become proposal writers for Space Dynamics Laboratory and Sandia National Labs. They write exceptionally technical proposals to NSF, NASA, DOE, and other granting agencies. Are they not technical writers? If not, is it only because they are not documentation specialists?

If you use a genre-based system of organization, you might say that proposal writers are not technical writers but help file writers are. You might suggest that only documentation specialists are technical writers. If you use a technology-based system, you might say that some proposal writers, some science writers, and some marketing writers are also technical writers. It seems to me that your system of classification will drive your definitions of all these professions.

I think it is not about one person being right or wrong, but about the different systems we are using to drive our definitions. Some systems are narrow, others are more broad. The important issue this conversation brings up, IMHO, is not that it is important to be right, but that it is important that we recognize and understand our own classification systems and those of the others before assuming we are right or wrong.


David E. Hailey, Jr., Ph.D.
Associate Professor -- Professional and Technical Writing
Utah State University
dhailey -at- english -dot- usu -dot- edu

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Follow-Ups:

References:
RE: Definition of Tech Writer, was STC is broken: From: Joe Armstrong
RE: Definition of Tech Writer, was STC is broken: From: Connie Giordano

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