Re: Technical writing as a trade; was, RE: Give Me a Clear Thinker (was STC certification: what's in it for tech writers?)

Subject: Re: Technical writing as a trade; was, RE: Give Me a Clear Thinker (was STC certification: what's in it for tech writers?)
From: Steven Jong <stevefjong -at- comcast -dot- net>
To: "Porrello, Leonard" <lporrello -at- illumina -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 1 Nov 2011 18:11:56 -0400

When STC engaged the economist Risk O'Sullivan to study what made a profession, his answer was a body of knowledge, a code of ethics, and certification. Without a code of ethics, he said, we are a trade. (In presentaions, I have expressed it differently: without ethics, we are used-car salesmen 8^)

Buck Chaffee, the certification consultant, answers the question differently. He says that a tradesman works under the plan and direction of someone else, while a professional does planning as well. A tradesman will build a house working from an architectural plan, while an architect draws up the plan.

I personally get crazy when someone tells me what to write and how to write it. It's not that I can't follow orders; it's that I am surrendering my professionalism and becoming a tradesman. I'm here to create meals, not cook scrambled eggs and home fries!

-- Steve

Sent from my iPad

On Oct 31, 2011, at 12:55 PM, "Porrello, Leonard" <lporrello -at- illumina -dot- com> wrote:

> âMetaphoricalâ is exactly what I was thinking. Merely saying that two things are dissimilar is not the same thing as disparaging one thing over another. I suggested that where trades create order in matter, professions create order in ideas.
>
> From: Chris Despopoulos [mailto:despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com]
> Sent: Monday, October 31, 2011 9:44 AM
> To: Porrello, Leonard; 'Steven Jong'; TECHWR-L Digest
> Subject: Re: Technical writing as a trade; was, RE: Give Me a Clear Thinker (was STC certification: what's in it for tech writers?)
>
> Yes, I've caught a little flack over that. I'll back off and say that tech writing is a craft. But by that token, so are most "trades", when done with care, individual skill, and attention.
>
> I don't think the sense of a journeyman is inappropriate, though. A journeyman in a trade or craft is someone able to use raw materials and tools to set up a job and carry it to completion. In my experience, there are plenty of technical writers who can do that, and plenty who can't.
>
> In one sense, for the sake of keeping terms straight, I guess you have to respect the divisions made by terms like trade, craft, profession, and art. If not, then you get into arguments about terms, and never get to really say anything. From that POV, I have to agree that tech writing is a "profession". I guess it means our collars are white, and our fingernails are clean.
>
> From another POV, I don't think the material you use is relevant, whether it's pipes, wires, bricks, paper, or etched wafers of silicon. In any trade it's possible to let go and not work with ideas -- or at least work with as few as possible. But it's also possible to work with plenty of ideas in any trade, be it plumbing, brick laying, or what have you. I think the same is true of technical writing. I've seen plenty of pages written that are nothing more than physical descriptions of GUI elements -- "The FOO option foos a bar. To foo a bar, click in the FOO check box to make an X appear." Well, thank goodness it's task oriented. But where are the ideas? How is writing like that in any way superior to laying bricks, one after another, in nice straight rows?
>
> When discussing the "trade" of technical writing, I was making points from this POV. So we could say I was being metaphorical... I just wanted to use the term "journeyman", mainly.
>
> cud
>
> From: "Porrello, Leonard" <lporrello -at- illumina -dot- com>
> To: 'Steven Jong' <stevefjong -at- comcast -dot- net>; "despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com" <despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com>; TECHWR-L Digest <TECHWR-L -at- LISTS -dot- TECHWR-L -dot- COM>n
> Sent: Monday, October 31, 2011 11:15 AM
> Subject: Technical writing as a trade; was, RE: Give Me a Clear Thinker (was STC certification: what's in it for tech writers?)
>
> The whole "tech writing as a trade" thing makes me a little crazy. Tech writing is NOT a trade. It is a professions--like being a lawyer, doctor, software engineer, or an electrical engineer (to name a few).
>
> Tradesmen work primarily with things to build things. Literally. They work with brick, metal, wood, pipe, or wires. Trades require manual or mechanical skill. We, in contrast, work with ideas. Our jobs require intellectual skill.
>
> We are not tradesmen. We are not "wordsmiths." There is a perfectly good word that describes exactly what we are: writers.
>
> -----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 Steven Jong
> Sent: Saturday, October 29, 2011 9:19 AM
> To: despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com; TECHWR-L Digest
> Cc: Steven Jong
> Subject: Give Me a Clear Thinker (was STC certification: what's in it for tech writers?)
>
> Chris Despopoulos posted a long and interesting essay on technical writing as a trade. My understanding is that we're more than a trade because we have a code of ethics. A tradesman will do something stupid if the client demands it ("it's your money"); a professional won't.
>
> Anyway, at the end Chris says:
>
> > I think this finally hits on what bothers me about the certification thing... It tests application within a domain, but where is the test for native ability?
>
> To this I have an answer: we require written commentaries. If you work with beautiful templates and processes and can whip out a company-standard document, but you can't think your way out of a paper bag, we expect to pick that up when evaluating the written commentaries.
>
> -- Steve
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