RE: Technical writing as a trade

Subject: RE: Technical writing as a trade
From: "Porrello, Leonard" <lporrello -at- illumina -dot- com>
To: 'Chris Despopoulos' <despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com>, "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 1 Nov 2011 16:03:37 +0000

Chris states, "... organizing matter is ultimately an exercise in organizing ideas, whether the matter is assembled as I-beams, bricks, or bits."

Yes, of course. Anything man does has at least an analog in thought. As Aristotle says, man is a rational animal. What follows from your definition, however, is that what masons and plumbers do is essentially no different from what lawyers and physicists do. Do you accept this conclusion?

"The bottom-line question here (the thread) is, can you certify what we do? It seems Leonard argues we cannot... Good writing requires a degree or academic preparation, not a mere certification."

To the contrary, I do think technical writers can be certified. I also think that one learns how to write only through education (i.e., "academic preparation"). I am a big believer in formal, academic education (when done right) and reject the anti-intellectualism that is unfortunately so prevalent in the American psyche. The uniquely American myth of the "self-made man" a crock of bull. Newton himself said, "I have seen further only by standing on the shoulders of giants." The greatest inventions and insights of our time (of all times?) came from men and women who underwent "academic education."

If I had to define "education," I would say it is something like, "exhaustive systematic practice taken under the scrutiny and remediation of a master." I would say that one is educated in his field when he has achieved meta-cognitive competence in his domain. (Someone with an exceptionally good education will also recognize areas in which he is not competent.) I would add that after mastering fundamentals, great writers become autodidactic. In my experience, successful tech writers ("masters") are invariably autodidacts.



-----Original Message-----
From: techwr-l-bounces+lporrello=illumina -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com [mailto:techwr-l-bounces+lporrello=illumina -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com] On Behalf Of Chris Despopoulos
Sent: Tuesday, November 01, 2011 6:09 AM
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: Re: Technical writing as a trade; was, RE: Give Me a Clear Thinker (was STC certification: what's in it for tech writers?)

Leonard says:
***********************
Learning
how to write well doesn't require "long and intensive academic
preparation"? Were you born an excellent writer? Regardless, notice the
caveat in the definition: "often."

But I didn't say I would use
that definition exclusively, and having taken a second look at it, it
obviously falls short since after you remove the caveat, the definition
is far too general: "A calling requiring specialized knowledge".

Again,
I would argue that where trade/craft create order in matter,
professions create order in ideas. In addition, I like Craig's
distinction, "I guess it means our collars are white, and our
fingernails are clean."

It isn't a matter of superiority or inferiority. It is a matter of calling a thing what it is.
************************

Actually, that was my distinction, and I was making the point that, aside from our collars and fingernails, I still don't see much to keep me from calling tech writing a craft or trade. 

I see no preponderance of job postings that require a degree.  I see postings that require a degree or equivalent experience.  Again, were a degree required, I would not be a tech writer -- I have none.  Was I born an excellent writer?  Maybe I'm not one now.  But I can land a job.  OTOH, I'm not applying for medical, civil engineering, law, or academic jobs anywhere...  Degree required (not, I might add, certification). 

This idea/matter distinction of yours is interesting.  I got into the computer biz from the stock room...  Actually, I started out sweeping the front stoop.  But I kind of view it as not unlike humping boxes in Shipping/Receiving...  You have to move stuff from point A to point B.  And stuff it is.  Just because it's really tiny stuff doesn't mean it's not matter.  I'll add that this approach has been very successful for me. 

And let me point out that organizing matter is ultimately an exercise in
organizing ideas, whether the matter is assembled as I-beams, bricks,
or bits.  For a brick layer, the ideas are largely settled before he lays the bricks.  For tech writers, the ideas are largely settled before we write about them.  Even if the whole product changes and we have to scratch our writing, the *new* ideas will be largely settled before we write about them. 

This is not to trivialize technical writing.  There's art, engineering, and even science in what we do -- if we're up to it.  But that's the same for most work you can imagine.  Is cooking a trade, a profession, an art, or a science?  Heck, some cooks even need a degree!  What about music?  Are you a professional musician because you get paid, or do you need a degree to be a professional?  (Please believe me, not all music is art!) One day I'll tell you about the guys who renovated our bathroom...  It's a marvel to see people who work really well. 

I think it's useful to consider the aspects of trade in what we do.  It simplifies some terms in a useful and meaningful way (I think).  Indeed, simplification is what certification is all about...  Identifying the aspects of some endeavor, isolating them, codifying them, and establishing criteria for certification.  The bottom-line question here (the thread) is, can you certify what we do? It seems Leonard argues we cannot...  Good writing requires a degree or academic preparation, not a mere certification.  (Oh no...  have I opened another can of terms?)  My argument against certification was different, saying that for a hiring journeymen it isn't necessary to see a certification to recognize a peer.  In any event, isolating the trade-like aspects of what we do seemed useful for the discussion.  But I would no sooner limit tech writing activities to a definition of "trade" than I would limit any of the other "trades".
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Re: Technical writing as a trade; was, RE: Give Me a Clear Thinker (was STC certification: what's in it for tech writers?): From: Chris Despopoulos

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