RE: Request to take survey

Subject: RE: Request to take survey
From: <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com>
To: "'Helen OBoyle'" <hoboyle -at- gmail -dot- com>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 11 Aug 2016 10:02:21 -0400

> I'm unconvinced that engaging in technical conversation on a web board (for example) would primarily be called "technical writing" rather than "providing support". (Here we go with one of those "in my world/in my niche" statements.

Well, my point was that they are technical communication, which I donât think is in dispute. The job title âtechnical writerâ has never been synonymous with the whole of technical communication. The job of the âtechnical writerâ traditionally has been to provide a certain portion of technical communication to a certain audience in a certain form.

What the company providing the technology cares about, though, is that an adequate amount of technical communication takes place so that its customers can be successful. It does not really care what form that takes. The advent of social media as a communication channel, therefore, changes the equation on how an adequate amount of technical communication is achieved.

If that means conventional âtechnical writingâ is no longer needed, then it will go away. Personally, I have long held that the distinction between technical writing and technical support was based on a difference of media that is no longer relevant. The web is highly disruptive of niches.

> To me the standard of writing in so many conversational media is so low that it's obvious that the people who usually do it aren't writers and wouldn't identify themselves as writers if asked what they are paid to do. I persist in the perhaps-antiquated belief that things that skills in grammar, spelling, and so on are important things that technical writers bring to the table, and that they are often not much in evidence online.

These things are the hygiene of communication. They make communication more pleasant to receive, but they are not of its essence. Peopleâs first interest in in getting a solution to their technical problem. If they are willing to accept that information with a lower level of hygiene, then an adequate amount of technical communication has been achieved. (The customer has what they need to be successful.)

Would a greater degree of hygiene improve these channels? Perhaps. But it has to come along with correct, topical, and timely answers. The old books in boxes model may get the âcorrectâ part right, but it often fails on topical and timely. If we want correct, topical, timely, and hygienic, then we need technical writers on the social media front lines.

It is, of course, possible to clean up the hygiene of some social media channels later. Stack Exchange, for example, permits and encourages editing other peopleâs post to clean up spelling and grammar issues. But that is more of a job for editors than writers â editors being communication hygienists, after all. Writers are bridge builders. Social media is a bridge technology, but one with vastly different roles and expectations than older media. We canât necessarily expect the rules and expectations of the book world to apply in equal proportion and force to social media. Social media clearly values immediacy and personality over authority and hygiene, and it is not hard to see how these preferences are a natural consequence of its social nature.

We do need to remember that the point of our professions is that adequate technical communication takes place to ensure customer success. How important content hygiene is to achieving that goal is clearly changing. While I don't suggest we abandon content hygiene, I do think we have to recognize that social media delivers a huge technical communication value despite its variable levels of hygiene. And in the end, we are in the technical communication business, not the content hygiene business. That is the editor's turf.

Mark





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Follow-Ups:

References:
Re: Request to take survey: From: Chris Despopoulos
RE: Request to take survey: From: mbaker

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