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John Gear writes:
But I would much rather have two days (or two weeks, or two months, or two
years) to teach engineers to write than I would to have an equivalent time in
which to teach writers to engineer. The
students in the former group would be much further along towards your
definition of competence than those in the latter would be towards their
professional engineer certificates.
I wrote the letter to which you refer, and that was hardly my point. I
obviously don't reverse this maxim to state that you could teach me to be an
engineer. My point was, I repeat, that many journalists can translate their
skills into technical writing, which is precisely what I did. I don't claim
to have any engineering knowledge whatsoever, yet I can learn very quickly (wi
thin a week or two) enough about a complex subject to write coherently about
in the context of a software program or introductory course matter. And this
has nothing to do with the competence of one group over the other.
You write further:
It doesn't take too long before a technical writer is in a position to learn
more about the craft
independently, the hallmark of basic competence. After an equivalent period
of study the average engineering student is still incapable of tying her
This is precisely my point. A technical writer can pick up technical subject
matter and continue to grow and develop in this manner with very little
formal training. Again, I have nothing but respect for what an engineer can
achieve and the amount of schooling that requires, and the maxim I quoted is
meant in no way to belittle the obvious intellectual and creative energy that
good engineers must strive to continuously maintain.
But...engineers often don't write well. Can you teach them to write better.
Of course you can. Writing is not impossible to learn, but some do it much
better than others. So you can't say that just because you can teach someone
basic grammar, structure, spelling, etc that they will become a good writer
in the end.
John goes on to write:
Perhaps instead of competing with engineers in the "my profession's harder
than your's" contest we should take a reverse tack and compete on the basis
of being one of the few that every person--even engineers!--should have a
basic competence in--and set about providing that competence.
I was certainly not claiming in quoting this maxim that technical writing is
"harder" than engineering. Nor was I in any way trying to create a
competition where none exists. Just because, "it's not rocket science",
however, does not mean just anyone can walk in and do it. If that were the
case, we would never see a poorly written or poorly organized manual. I can
write a complete draft of a manual based on a functional spec and some screen
dumps. Does this make me better than the engineer who is writing the program?
Of course not, but it speaks volumes about *my* ability to write.
I must say you read much more into a little phrase than was ever intended.
This is not a war or even a battle. In fact, it had absolutely nothing to do
with engineers, so much as technical writers.