Re[2]: Technical vs. writing knowledge and masochists

Subject: Re[2]: Technical vs. writing knowledge and masochists
From: Bonni Graham <Bonni_Graham_at_Enfin-SD -at- RELAY -dot- PROTEON -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 15 Nov 1993 12:20:00 EST

Shannon writes:
"And, before I get hammered by Bonnie et al on my statement `I did a lot of
writing at university':"

I don't hammer...much <grin>. I tap a lot...

"They *do* teach you to write in these classes, and when you work hard, get good
grades, and earn praise for your work, you tend to look on the classes as valid
learning experiences."

A good lit class, or high school English class will teach you to write, and
write well, but they are usually few and far between (and before _I_ get
hammered, let me note that I used to teach high school English -- taught at
several different schools, in fact) AND even if they're plentiful where you
are, you have to work (as Shannon pointed out). A lot of the engineers I hear
the comment "everybody can write" from apparently slept through these classes.
I've found that the more an engineer insists that anyone can write and that
they can document their systems better than you can, the worse their writing
skills are. The engineers that won't touch documentation with the proverbial
10-foot pole (and which proverb was that in, anyway?) are the ones who can
actually write pretty well, when you can get them to -- they know how hard it

"I agree that simply growing up speaking and learning a language doesn't make
you a great writer; but it doesn't disqualify you from being a good writer,

Absolutely -- which is why my primary requirement for a writing job is that
the person can write, not that they have a degree in anything in particular!
:) My whole objection is to the idea that since everyone sits through four
years of English classes in high school (the most English some ever take),
everyone can write _at the same level_. Almost everyone sits through some
biology, too, but you don't want them operating on you. :) (See, smiley
faces -- I'm hammering, but lightly, and not really on anyone <grin>)

Actually, I should have made this clearer in my original post: I feel that
the more closely your technical writer matches the overall technical
expertise of your audience, the better off you're (they're -- the audience)
going to be. Mind you, I'm not advocating the level of ignorance I heard
about in the following story:

Apparently there's a technical pubs manager out there somewhere (I heard
this fourth or fifth hand, so it may be an Urban Legend) who insists that
his writers _not_ learn the program so that they can remain at the same
level of understanding as their audience.

This is clearly carrying that idea too far. But a person at the same general
level of expertise as the audience (_or who can remember so being_) is
probably going to be confused by the same kinds of things, ask the same kinds
of questions, etc. and can therefore answer them in the manual, whereas a
more technically advanced person will want to avoid documenting the "obvious"
which may not be obvious to the audience at all. Now this does not apply to
those of us who can clearly remember what it's like to be at a previous stage
of understanding. Nevertheless, the higher you go, the harder it is to
remember those first stages (if anyone has had a different experience, I'd
love to hear about it -- share how you did it, please!).

Sorry, that kind of got off the track...

Bonni Graham | ASCII, n. A tiny tribe of
Technical Writer | Barbarians that achieved its
Easel Corporation, ENFIN Technology Lab | place in history by sacking
Bonni_Graham_at_Enfin-SD -at- relay -dot- proteon -dot- com | the Roman alphabet. The
President, San Diego STC | Ascii were eventually de-
| feated by their enemies,
NOTE: apparently my email address needs | the Gothics, the Uncials,
to be typed exactly as it appears here, | and the Italics.
punctuation and all, or the system gets |
upset (cranky, actually). | --Ezra Shapiro

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