NOTE 04/22/93 10:22:00

Subject: NOTE 04/22/93 10:22:00
From: CLoris <HARRIS -dot- CLORIS -at- IC1D -dot- HARRIS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 22 Apr 1993 10:22:10 EST

The following was written by a tech writer at a company I used to be employed
with. I think you might find it interesting. As a new technical writer I found
it quite inspiring. I hope it does the same for you.

Chris Loris
HARRIS -dot- CLORIS -at- IC1D -dot- HARRIS -dot- COM

by: Larry McGrath

God created technical writers a day or two after He made the
first engineer. He knew what he was doing. Because, with few
notable exceptions, engineers are lousy writers. It is easier to
make an engineer out of a writer than vice versa; but either way
something is likely to suffer. It is better simply to let
engineers be engineers and writers writers. That way, technology
advances with minimum damage to the English language as we know

Other writers tend to look down their noses at the tech
writer, seeing him as a scribe without gift or glamour.
Admittedly, tech writing involves about the same amount of
glamour as stuffing a turkey. It may not be art, but it never
fails to put food on the table. This is a compensation beyond
the experience of most of the writing fraternity.

It is not true that creativity plays no part in the work of
a tech writer. Without it he would be nowhere. No matter that
it is usually somebody else's creativity. At this very moment,
thousands of engineers are slavering over their slide rules and
calculators in a veritable orgy or creative frenzy. Tomorrow,
all over the land, typists will transcribe from hastily scribbled
notes and drop copies in the bosses' in-baskets. And in a
typical case, the boss will call in Jones, the engineer who
overnight has developed a new design for a self-canceling
nullifier, and say:

"Jones, I read your report and I believe the frample has
good potential. If you don't mind, I'd like to turn your notes
over to Smith and let you go on with your research."

And Jones will start to ask what the hell is a frample, but
quickly decide to play smart and go along with the boss. In due
course Smith, who has never heard of a frample either and who
knows zilch about self-canceling nullifiers, will find a
hyperbaric application for the design. It will sell like hot

Eventually a tech writer, doing research for a manual for
frample owners, will look twice at Jones' original notes and
discover that the engineer had meant to write not "Frample (see
sketch" but "For example, see sketch." But he will wisely say
nothing about the nonexistence of framples, because his future
may depend on it in more ways than one. That is known as keeping
up with the state of the art.

Technical writing combines many of the characteristics of
other forms of writing while differing from them all. The
average tech writer produces more printed output in less time
than the average novelist, but sells everything he writes. But
like the poet and the author of short fiction, he strives for
compression within certain restrictions of form; but what he
writes is neither poetry nor fiction. The style book and the
deadline are as familiar to him as to the newswriter, but he
never hopes for a byline.

There is some difference, to be sure, in the tech writer's
treatment of a subject from that of any other type of writer.
One can imagine, for example, that on seeing Noah's ark
Shakespeare might have penned:

Here standeth something waiting for the tide,
Three hundred cubits long and fifty wide,
Wherein the architect , with seeming haste,
The gamut of the game preserve hath placed;
And, having done, himself with wife and kin
Hath climbed serenely up and settled in.

James Joyce might have been inspired to write "Portrait of
the Arkist as an Old Man."

A typical news reporter would be objective:

"Noah, a 600-year-old local builder, today moved his
family and several hundred animals into an unusual
edifice of his design at 107 Adam Street."

But the technical writer would handle it like this:

"The Ark (see Figure 1) is of resin-wood construction
with fiber reinforcement and internal and external pitch
coatings. Its hull is 138 meters long, 23 meters wide,
and 13.8 meters high. A side-mounted hatch provides
access to three interior levels. The uppermost level
includes quarters for crew of eight and stowage for one
male and one female each of the following:

"a. Aardvarks

"b. Aardwolves

"c. Aberdeen-Anguses..."

It is a shame to quit just as this is becoming interesting.
But that is one of the cardinal rules of tech writing, and we try
never to break it.

### If you pass on this copy, please give credit to Mr. McGrath ###
### Site your sources! ###

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