English majors

Subject: English majors
From: Randy Allen Harris <raha -at- WATARTS -dot- UWATERLOO -dot- CA>
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1993 09:18:49 -0400

John Veneruso, in his useful post about hiring/firing trends in technical
communication, said

>Second, English majors are viewed by "some" in the Engineering establishment
>as having insufficient technical background to understand the hardware and
>software that they are to document. So, many local companies are now paying
>roughly $13,000K more for a technical writer who has a B.S. degree than they
>were paying for the English majors they let go just months before.
>(This trend implies that the demand for Technical Editors will soon increase.)

The importance of his comments depends on how broadly or narrowly one
construes "English major". If it means the sort of literature expert that
the great majority of universities and colleges turn out, the "'some' in
the Engineering establishment" he mentions are probably right. Certainly
there is no more compelling reason to hire an English (literature) major
for technical communication than there is to hire any other liberal arts
graduate. In fact, some other liberal arts grads (in history, for
instance, or classics) often have a better feel for direct language. There
are, of course, some very compelling reasons to hire liberal arts grads,
but none that I can see for singling out English (literature) folk. And
there is always going to be some technology lag (sometimes insurmountable)
with liberal arts grads, just as there is always a communication lag
(sometimes insurmountable) with technology grads.

If "English major" is narrowed down to "technical and/or professional
writing major", the sort of graduates that a small group of universities
and colleges are training, and if John's observations still hold, then the
trend is frightening indeed (though, as he notes, it can't possibly last
very long; first the companies would need editors to clean up all the
botched work; and, then, presumably they would come to their senses).

And, yes, the signature line below is correct. I am in an English
department, though it is one that provides two areas of courses, in
literature and in professional communication (each with a side order of

Randy Allen Harris; raha -at- watarts -dot- uwaterloo -dot- ca
English, University of Waterloo, Waterloo ON N2L 3G1 Canada

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