RE: Trends in Tech Comm

Subject: RE: Trends in Tech Comm
From: "Steve Janoff (non-Celgene)" <sjanoff -at- celgene -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, John Allred <jack -at- allrednet -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 3 Feb 2012 18:50:52 -0800

Nicely said, John. Thanks so much.

Not to belabor the point, but years ago I fell in love with old writing books from the mid to late 1800s through the early 1900s, and I was always baffled about why we abandoned the old style of writing, which is beautifully elaborate, in favor of a more clipped, just-the-facts style. In those days, every high school child (but only the privileged got to high school) learned how to describe in the written word the world around them, the world of Nature. If you look at those old books, many of which are brilliant, 400 to 600-page tomes containing exquisite instruction, you unwaveringly see massive sections on Figures of Speech, Description (up to 100 pages out of a 600-page book), and Narration (similar length or longer). Look in any contemporary writing book for high school or college students and you'll see maybe one paragraph, if that, on each of Description and Narration.

I always felt that somebody could write a Master's thesis on why prose style (in general, not technical prose) transitioned from the old Romantic style (?) of the Victorian and Edwardian eras (I was not an English major, so forgive any errors here), to the urban, horn-honking style of prose of the middle twentieth century. The only thing I could come up with at the time as a possible reason was the Industrial Revolution, along with urbanization and the needs of modern business to "get to the point." Hence you have Gunning's "Fog Index" of the 1950s, if I remember that right.

I wouldn't want to go back to Olde English but late 1800s / early 1900s has just the right flicker, before that flame went out completely. I guess we'll have to go back and read the books of the past to get that high. The books of the present don't really do it for me.

Steve

-----Original Message-----
From: On Behalf Of John Allred
Sent: Friday, February 03, 2012 7:00 AM
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: Re: Trends in Tech Comm

Steve,

I agree with your gist. My thought has always been that the style of
writing documentation, as we think of it today, came about during our
period of rapid industrialization and borrowed initially from both the
scholarly, pedantic style of academia and the very formalized style of
business writing of those times. It was either scientific in tone and
voice, or an affected business style. I doubt there was any concept of
"end user" like we have today.

While an educated or technical audience might prefer a highly precise,
technical, and dry, style of writing, your typical end user, I think
it's fair to say, prefers a somewhat more casual style that implies the
writer has a personality and is more "like" the reader. Isn't that sort
of the essence of Apple? The "for the rest of us" attitude?

John Allred

On 2/2/2012 9:42 PM, Steve Janoff (non-Celgene) wrote:
> Let me restate and say that I feel what's being drained out of documentation is the art and craft of writing, and part of that is style (not necessarily a writer's personality but a compelling "voice"). This doesn't have to do with the reduction of words but is more a product of standardization (mechanization, automation).

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Follow-Ups:

References:
Trends in Tech Comm: From: Steve Janoff (non-Celgene)
RE: Trends in Tech Comm: From: Steve Janoff (non-Celgene)
Re: Trends in Tech Comm: From: Tony Chung
RE: Trends in Tech Comm: From: Steve Janoff (non-Celgene)
Re: Trends in Tech Comm: From: John Allred

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