Novelists & other good writing

Subject: Novelists & other good writing
From: "Maureen J. Akins" <csvmja -at- ADMIN -dot- AC -dot- EDU>
Date: Mon, 12 Apr 1993 08:05:11 EST

As a Computer Support Specialist (a troubleshooter, an instructor, a
technical writer, and a programmer), I've found that my best experience has
come from introducing beginners to computers. Once you've seen how
instructions can be misinterpreted, or how incomplete instructions can be a
source of panic, you can begin to understand why it is an art to write well.

I believe that my writing and teaching background has made me a better
programmer. I try for readability in my screens, clearness in my menu
phrasing, and reassuring cues during the program actions. I often wish
that the Computer Science students here could spend some time in the
computer labs doing walk-in assistance. It's quite an eye-opener for those
who are so used to computers that they forget about the "wall of fear" that
new users encounter.

In my opinion, an ideal software design team should include a technical
writer to help with the user interface (menuing, prompts, etc.) and also a
marketing/sales rep who knows the environment of the potential customers.
I think it's obvious that technical writers could have dramatically
improved many a product. The marketing/sales person can keep the program
designers on track. If the product needs to be easy to use, the marketing
rep can spot it quickly when the product starts getting cumbersome.

Of course, I don't live in an ideal world; budget constraints are the
normal for staff at a state college. That's why my "design team" is often
just me. Is there anyone out there who is lucky enough to work with an
ideal software design team? I'd love to know if I'm just dreaming or
simply not in the right spot.


Date: Mon, 12 Apr 1993 00:36:05 GMT
From: Vignes Gerard M <gmv0570 -at- UCS -dot- USL -dot- EDU>
Subject: Re: Novelists

In article <01930411175310/0004828598NA1EM -at- mcimail -dot- com> Steve Bannister
<0004828598 -at- mcimail -dot- com> writes:

>I'm a subscriber to this list because I believe that technical writing
>is a valuable skill for scientists, and because the writing skills of
>most scientists _ARE MISERABLE_!!!

>Science doesn't exclude communication skills. Scientists do. Techies
>can be trained to write well. I believe that it is the most often
>overlooked career-enhancing skill for scientists. If they ignore it,
>shame on them.

>Far too few scientists develop their writing skills to a level which
>would be judged adequate by their high-school teachers. Those that do
>are rewarded nicely, even if they don't go to work for ESPN.

Thanks for your insight, Steve.

I've believe that one of the first, most important places
to start improving one's communication skills is with the
ability to quickly and easily define:

(1) who one's audience is,
(2) how much they already know about the topic,
(3) what they need to know (that they don't already),
(4) and the appropriate language (writing-level + jargon) to use.

A good exercise, and one which might be very useful for any
programmers listening in, would be an attempt to define this
'context' which I have outlined above for the simple case of
putting _TRULY_USEFUL_ inline comments in a small program.

Anyone else out there interested?

| Maureen Akins, Support Specialist Augusta College |
| Internet: makins -at- admin -dot- ac -dot- edu Computer Services |
| (706) 737-1484 GIST: 337-1484 2500 Walton Way |
| FAX: (706) 737-1773 Augusta, GA 30910 |

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