Re: Technical vs. writing knowledge

Subject: Re: Technical vs. writing knowledge
From: Bonni Graham <Bonni_Graham_at_Enfin-SD -at- RELAY -dot- PROTEON -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 12 Nov 1993 12:34:00 EST

Steve Pope asks:
"What knowledge is best for technical writers: technical or writing

I have to respond with:

It depends on your audience.

I'm sure many of you already knew I was going to say that. I say it a
lot. It's still true.

That said, we're in a difficult position, being a "crossover" profession
(we need a little of both). I get cranky when I see the claim that, just
because _everyone_ had to sit through English classes in order to
graduate, _everyone_ has language skills.

When I'm in a conversation about technical stuff, and I get the attitude
from an engineer that I'm "wasting his/her time" with stupid questions,
and that they could write and design the manual better than I 'cause
"everyone can write," I usually smile sweetly and start an in-depth
discussion of the theory of the use of the passive voice, or leading and
its effect on readability. (Sorry for the long sentence.) As soon as his
or her eyes glaze over, I point out that I have technical knowledge, too,
knowledge that they don't have -- so no, not "everyone" can write.
Everyone can put words into mostly coherent sentences, but there's more
to writing than that.

I sat through many a programming class -- does that make me a programmer?
(I can see the technically oriented folks cringing already -- she's done
what? Sat through Fortran 101? Wrote a 30-line dBase program? Typed
out one SmallTalk method? And now she thinks she can program?) I imagine
that the more technical types get equally cranky when they see the claim
that anyone can do techie stuff. Learn it, yes. Do it, probably not.

If I'm hiring someone for a job with the word "writer" in the title, or
"writing" in the job description, I bloody well want someone who can
write <grin>. If I want someone to design the thing, I hire someone with
primarily technical skills. If that person also has _demonstrably_ good
writing skills, they may also be qualified for the writing position. So
there you go.

Bonni Graham |
Technical Writer | serif, n. A teensy-weensy
Easel Corporation, ENFIN Technology Lab | crossbar attached to the
Bonni_Graham_at_Enfin-SD -at- relay -dot- proteon -dot- com | ends of letterforms by
President, San Diego STC | malevolent typesetters. Ac-
| cording to popular legend,
NOTE: apparently my email address needs | the first serif was designed
to be typed exactly as it appears here, | at Nottingham.
punctuation and all, or the system gets |
upset. | --Ezra Shapiro

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