Re: 'Eng vs Writer...' [Long]

Subject: Re: 'Eng vs Writer...' [Long]
From: "Chas. Bosdet" <WLFTRIX -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 2 May 1995 15:28:39 -0400

From Houston, home of the original flammable oil field, Vince Putman writes:

> It does not take a Communications or Engineering degree to make
> a good Technical Writer. It takes the equivalent of both AND the
> INNATE talent to write to be a real TechWriter. Ya either got it or
> you don't . . .
> Its a bunch of BULL to *pretend* you can understand Technical
> Writing or Engineering.... Previous threads revealed the same false
> hope of becoming a TechWriter without a technical background.
> You can become an Editor of someone else's writings!!
> That's it, no BULL!!

> Editors can all write fluff, but where's the beef? Beef comes from
> ability to research the topic, understand it, and write for a certain
> audience.

I think I'd consider switching to a milder salsa, Vince. At the same time, I
keep thinking of an anecdote that suggests (to me, anyway) that much of the
recent discussion on this topic is somehow off the mark.

I know a news editor who, three months after leaving journalism, wrote a 300
- 400-page experimental jet engine operating and flight-test manual for a
major aerospace company. He had zero engineering background and started with
only 20-30 pages of truly impenetrable write-up from the propulsion
engineers. He spent three or four months sweating through cockpit avionics,
engine operating principles and details, electronics, mechanical design and
operation, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, routine and emergency flight
procedures. Toward the end he even suggested flameout scenarios that the
engine maker's engineers hadn't mentioned, and a couple that they hadn't
thought of, all of which he incorporated into the manual (to the flight-test
crew's relief, I'm sure).

In the end the engineering and flight-test departments loved the book, the
Air Force flight-test director praised it ("best I've ever seen on an
experimental program," or something like that), and the engine manufacturer
adopted it as the reference book for its own engineers.

The guy is smart but I can't believe he is unique among editors and writers.
Have we slipped into painting this topic with strokes that are too broad --
and missed a salient consideration or three in the process?

Chas. Bosdet


P.S. At the same time, I know a few engineers who are fine writers. Okay,
admittedly they're few in number, but among them only one had extensive
training in writing; the rest simply were good communicators -- back to
individual abilities again. Based on my own experience I've had to conclude
that engineers *as a class* are not good writers by any stretch of the
imagination (this makes them unique?), and that what passes for writing with
many of them is not what I'd call clear communication. But --

Flip side of the coin: I think the rap they get for their writing is often
overstated and sometimes undeserved, and that they're the most
underappreciated professionals on the planet, possibly even the most
maligned. They're the bridge between scientific abstractions and the widgets
we use every hour of the day. Without 'em we wouldn't be exchanging ideas on
Techwr-L -- or on anything else, for that matter.


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