Re: paradigm for tech comm?

Subject: Re: paradigm for tech comm?
From: "Focus on 3 things: Quality, Quality, Quality" <raven -at- USABLE -dot- ENET -dot- DEC -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1993 11:46:27 EST

>> As technical writers, what do you think is the paradigm for technical
>> writing?

>I don't think there is any one paradigm that forms the basis for modern
>technical writing, if I understand your question correctly.

Ah, what a wonderful, tough question! Many technical writers
might not even know what you are asking when you talk about a paradigm
for technical writing. And certainly many of the engineers I work
with would not know what I was asking if I asked what the current
paradigm was for computer engineering--except that they would know the
answer, I think, once they understood the question. I don't think the
technical writers would know the answer once they understood the
question because I contend that we're going through a period of
paradigm shift.

Now, it's been at least 8 years since I've read Kuhn, so
please be flexible when I say that, for the purposes of my mail
message here, a paradigm is an underlying philosophy of what a group
thinks may be "right" or "good" or "the way things are," or the way
that group perceives what they are doing.

As a technical communicator, I perceive that I am creating "A
persuasive version of reality" (paraphrase of Carolyn Miller); I help
to "manage reality" for customers--their "reality" of whether a
product is good or bad, usable or useless, depends on the user
interface I help design and the documentation I create (whether
online, hardcopy, video, etc). That's *my* current paradigm, and I
know that it's shared about about 8 other communicators in the
900-person communication group to which I belong. (Most of the rest I don't
know about).

But I do know there are others whose paradigm is informed by
the "windowpane" paradigm that technical communicators are
conveying--not creating--reality by writing "what is real" down on the page.

I could go on ad nauseum. You hit a real hot button here for
me, because the paradigm under which we operate can have a great deal
of influence on the value that we perceive we add to the products that
we document.

Moreover, the paradigm that OTHERS have of what we do may
have an even greater influence--if Engineers are the top management
(and most of the management in between) and their idea of what we do
is just "transcribe reality" then OUR VALUE to the company is not as
great as, say, the value of engineers or programmers. And this, of
course, is reflected in our pay, our opportunities for graduate work
(that the company supports), and perhaps even the hardware and the
software we are given to use.

Thus, I agree with Len. Don't apologize for asking a question
that doesn't seem very practical because, in my opinion, you asked one
of *the* most important questions of all.

Mary Beth Raven
Information Design and Consulting
Digital Equipment Corporation

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