Re: I'd rather teach an engineer to write than a writer to engineer

Subject: Re: I'd rather teach an engineer to write than a writer to engineer
From: Carla Lotito <lotitoc -at- BERCLAIN -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 1995 15:15:57 -0400

I think what is being forgotten here is that each of us have different
talents and some are more talented in writing and others in technical
subjects such as programming. This is why some of us are writers and some of
us aren't.

Technical writing is more than just writing clearly and concisely. It is
being aware of your user and his level of knowledge, thinking of ways to
present your information (graphically and textually) to improve and speed up
understanding, and making the user's task of finding and using information
as easy and painless as possible.

Technical writers are not just writers, they are teachers. They teach the
reader about the information.

Writing is not as easy as many people think. And it can't be learnt
overnight. An engineer may learn to write at an acceptable level in a clear
and concise manner, but he may never be able to write like a technical
writer if he doesn't have the talent for it.

However, both can actually come together in some cases.
.>Someone wrote:

>>I once heard a saying that it's easier to teach a good writer how to be
>>technical than it is to teach a technical person who lacks writing skills to
>>be a good writer.
>>I think this remains true.

>As a recovering engineer, I say this conceit is false. My experience with
>both sides of the problem is this:

>The problem in teaching "technical" folks to write well is getting them to
>understand the importance of writing well. Once they are convinced that
>writing is a craft worth learning it is fairly easy to teach them how to
>avoid the most common causes of poor writing. Once they accept the notion
>that writing is a structured process, technical folks are comfortable with
>the concepts of grammar (equivalent to engineering thumbrules) and even
>style (which is related to economy and elegance in design).

>The very hard cases have usually (a) never been exposed to any technical
>writing that is worth emulating and (b) never observed good writing get any
>rewards. But technical folks are rarely unteachable. Unmotivated, yes.
>Unteachable, no. When placed in situations where clear writing is important
>and given basic instruction on writing, most technical people acquit
>themselves rather well.

>The problem in teaching "good writers" to "be technical" is the problem of
>superficial knowledge versus understanding. I've known several recovering
>English teachers who "sound" as technical as all-get-out -- but whose
>understanding is shallow and limited. Their faculty with English and innate
>verbal skills make them excellent conversational chameleons. They pick up
>lingo quickly and accurately and are skilled at finding chances to drop a
>phrase or ask a question that creates an impression of greater comprehension
>than they actually possess. More power to them--until you actually take up
>the challenge of teaching them "how to be technical" or rely on them to
>solve a new technical problem where faculty with words is unimportant to the
>solution of the problem.

>Obviously these remarks are limited to the practice of technical writing. I
>don't have any experience teaching anyone to write artistically--but then,
>that's probably a pretty fair stab at the difference between the craft of
>technical writing and the art of writing: Craftspeople can be taught,
>artists teach themselves. So I make no claim to be able to help "technical
>people" be good writers in that respect. But if "good writer" in the
>context of this discussion means "able to write clearly and concisely about
>technical matters" then I think the person charged with turning writers into
>"technical people" has the far more difficult task.

>There are, no doubt, exceptions. And I'd guess a number of those exceptions
>might frequent this list. So I want to say that I'm not doubting anyone's
>technical competence. If you are an English Lit major who designs with the
>best of them, more power to you. These remarks are necessarily
>generalizations in response to a generalization and are not intended to
>offend anyone.
>John Gear (catalyst -at- pacifier -dot- com)

> The trouble about fighting for human freedom is that you have
>to spend so much of your life defending sons of bitches; for
>oppressive laws are always aimed at them originally, and
>oppression must be stopped in the beginning if it is to be
>stopped at all.
> -- H.L. Menken

These are my opinions, and my opinions only

Carla Lotito Berclain Group Inc. (PMG Group)
E-mail: lotitoc -at- berclain -dot- com Sainte-Foy (Quebec) Canada
G1W 2L4

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