Re: Academic/technical writing

Subject: Re: Academic/technical writing
From: Len Olszewski <saslpo -at- UNX -dot- SAS -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 7 May 1993 09:56:20 -0500

Chuck Banks draws a distinction between academic and technical writing:

> While most Academic writing is expository or cognitive, neither
> quality qualifies Academic writing as a form of technical writing.

> Some Academic writing is indeed technical writing. In these cases,
> one purpose of the resulting documents is to translate a subject
> known best to specialists for understanding by nonspecialists or
> to provide a reliable proceedure for use by nonspecialists. But
> most Academic writing does not fall into either category. Most
> Academic writing communicates from one specialist to other
> specialists. Like a newspaper or magazine, such writing is very
> informative, but doesn't often qualify as Technical writing.

> Technical writing is not usually involved in communicating with
> technical writers. Technical writing is usually intended to
> translate information from specialists into a form useful to
> nonspecialists. Not always, but usually.

These are all good points. The differences between this viewpoint, and
my own viewpoint, are, from one perspective, purely semantic.

> So please, don't lump the two, Academic writing and Technical
> writing, together. They sometimes agree in their intent, but
> usually have much different goals and audiences.

If writing communicates a technical subject to an audience, IMHO it is
technical writing. The fact that academic writing aims at an audience
with a high level of subject matter expertise doesn't disqualify it.
The fact that academic writing communicates *technical* information *as
its goal* makes it difficult for me to see the difference. Academic
writing follows specific format rules, and rules about the rigor of the
underlying research, but it's still technical.

Rather than lumping the two together, I suggest that technical writing
is broader than simply translating complicated information for
consumption by non-specialists. That, I think, is a *form* of technical
writing. It's not the same thing as academic writing, which I think is a
*different form* of technical writing. As others may point out, there
are many more forms of technical writing. Of course, as you suggest (in
different words), at their best, all *forms* of technical writing (my
words) have qualities in common that make any given piece good.

> I do think, however, that each form of writing can contribute
> to the other, and does. [...specifics deleted...]

I firmly support this idea, and further suggest that the principles you
mention can strengthen *any* cognitve, expository, academic or technical
writing. And if everyone started applying all of the same standards to
what they wrote, the semantic, or real, distinctions between any of the
forms would be unimportant, since the quality of all writing would
dramatically improve.

> Chuck Banks
> chuck -at- ssddoc02 -dot- asl -dot- dl -dot- nec -dot- com

|Len Olszewski, Technical Writer |"Code in haste, repent at leisure." |
|saslpo -at- unx -dot- sas -dot- com|Cary, NC, USA| - Software Truism |
| Opinions this ludicrous are mine. Reasonable opinions will cost you.|

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