Re: Technical writing as a trade

Subject: Re: Technical writing as a trade
From: Chris Despopoulos <despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "Porrello, Leonard" <lporrello -at- illumina -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 09:45:40 -0700 (PDT)

Comments inline...



________________________________
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>
Sent: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 12:03 PM
Subject: RE: Technical writing as a trade

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?

[cud]
 I already differentiated law and physics from tech writing (lawyers and physicists need a degree).  But that's skirting your question.  There is a difference in degree (degree of a different kind).  But I wasn't aware that I had made a definition.  I was just pointing out the blur between mental and physical work.  All I'm saying is that you can look at any trade, craft, profession, or even art through a lens of trade, craft, profession, or even art.  That's all I'm saying...  You can use the lens if you want to, and you can get value out of using it.  Or not.  So shoot me,already.
[end cud]

"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."

[cud]
 I jumped to the wrong conclusion, then.  Your vote is in favor of tech writer certification.  The question remains, what can be certified that isn't already qualified by the candidate's degree?  (I'll add that I'm glad the STC doesn't require higher than a high school degree for certification.)

I did look at T. Edison's bio on Wikipedia, and it points out that he had little formal education.  I don't disparage education, and I also really hate good ole American anti-intellectualism.  But the American self-made man did happen...  It's a product of any frontier society.  Heck, I made myself on the digital frontier, and I know there are others who did the same. 
[end cud]

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.

[cud]
Without disparaging formal education, I have to repeat my original claim...  You can take a clear thinker who is reasonably literate, and teach that person to be a very good tech writer.  You can do this on the job -- I've seen it done, and I've done it.  I've seen these people stand out amongst their peers, some of whom were formally educated.  I can't say how systematic or exhaustive the training was...  Being on the job, it's necessarily situational.  (I also shudder to call myself a master...  Verging on hubris there.)  Given that, I believe a verified work history, plus a reasonably canny assessment of a person's thinking, is enough to decide whether the candidate is up to the job.  (Just restating my claim that among journeymen, it takes one to know one.)
[end cud]
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Follow-Ups:

References:
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
RE: Technical writing as a trade: From: Porrello, Leonard

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