Re: Technical -v- Technical Writing Expertise

Subject: Re: Technical -v- Technical Writing Expertise
From: Bonni Graham <Bonni_Graham_at_Enfin-SD -at- RELAY -dot- PROTEON -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 23 Nov 1993 15:34:00 EST

Alun asks:
"How big and messy a can of worms would I be opening
if I threw in the suggestion that most scientists and
engineers have read and used (not the same thing)
an order of magnitude more technical books and manuals
than most technical writers and many (ducking
here) technical writing teachers?"

I'd say REALLY big and REALLY messy, but that's just a guess. <grin>

"In which case, who are the experts?"

I've driven many cars in my day, but I wouldn't trust me to work on one (I can
do maintenance and minor repairs -- i.e., editing -- though). I know mechanics
who don't drive much, but can fix or build a car. I've taken medicine, and know
a LOT about what works for me, but I won't prescribe. I know doctors who don't
take very much medicine -- does that mean they don't know enough to prescribe
it? Who are the experts in these cases?

To me, this falls under the "I don't know art, but I know what I like" heading.
Those who read/use are not necessarily capable of (or interested in) creating.

It depends on what kind of 'expert" you are talking about. If you're talking
about who is an expert in what's out there and how useful existing items are,
then probably (given your constant -- that sci. & eng. read and use more tech
books) the scientists and engineers do. Are they therefore experts in _how_ to
create something that IS useful? Probably not. Should we listen to them and
use their input to build a better usertrap? Absolutely.

Remember, it is MUCH MUCH easier to criticise than to create. It is even easier
to criticise than to edit/fix. "I don't like this/This doesn't work" is
different from "I like this better/I think it would work better this way".

I don't claim to write perfectly. That's why I use review committees. But the
number of times I get the edit "unclear" or "more detail" back, with no further
input, is legion. The SMEs on the committee know they don't like what's there,
or that it isn't really correct, or whatever, but they have not clue one how to
fix it. That's why they have me, a writer. My degree is in Writing, but that's
incidental -- I know awesome tech writers who have no degree at all.

If this is tying back to the "hire a techie vs. hire a writer" debate, I still
say if you're primary output is written material (whether online or paper), hire
someone with writing skills. I don't care if they have a degree in Psychic
Underwater Basket Weaving -- can they write? If your hypothetical scientist
who's read a bazillion technical books/manuals can also write a coherent English
sentence/paragraph and structure a manual, cool. He or she is an expert in both
senses. If not, no way Jose, as we say here in CA.

Any other worms to add to the pile?

Bonni Graham |
Technical Writer |
Easel Corporation, ENFIN Technology Lab |
Bonni_Graham_at_Enfin-SD -at- relay -dot- proteon -dot- com | flush, v. Align type to the
President, San Diego STC | left or right, thereby
| beating a pair of aces
NOTE: apparently my email address needs |
to be typed exactly as it appears here, | --Ezra Shapiro
punctuation and all, or the system gets |
upset. |

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