Re: Eng vs Writer, BULL, Writing is an Innate Talent

Subject: Re: Eng vs Writer, BULL, Writing is an Innate Talent
From: Bob Handlin 1331 <BHandlin -at- CHIPCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 3 May 1995 17:31:00 PDT

Let me tie in the Baby Duckling thread by saying that most people tend to
believe that the perfect level of technical knowledge for a technical writer
is (coincidentally, of course) the precise amount of knowledge that they
have personally;)

Let me observe also that I have never seen anyone on this list post a
message stating that he or she is an ineffective technical communicator,
even though we rail on about all of the bad writers "out there." Those bad
writers must be somewhere else...

How exactly do we know whether or not we are good technical communicators?

Are you a good technical communicator because you carefully outline a
document, then write it to that outline? Are you a good technical
communicator because you send your books out for technical review, then
judiciously insert all of the comments? Because the engineers sign off on
your books? Because you're well paid and your boss gives you good reviews?
Because you win STC awards? Because you are an excellent writer?

The answer to each of the above is: No (the operative word being "because").

In my time as a technical writer, I've written books that range (in my
opinion) from good to horrible. At the time I released the "horrible"
books, I thought that they were good. I discovered that the books were
horrible only because some time later I better understood the subject
matter. In hindsight I could see that the stuff I had written, even if
well-crafted and undebatably true, lacked *sensitivity* for the subject

For example: Suppose instead of high tech widgets your company made
software that assists grammarians in resolving grammar issues. Suppose you
didn't know what a semi-colon was. Would you need to include a definition
for the term "sentence"? Would the programmers, who understand code really
well, tell you that you might want to define the pluperfect tense, but that
everyone knows what a verb is? Would the marketers, who just want the d*mn
software to ship ASAP, take the time to fill you in on all of this??

This much I can say with certainty: The grammarians USING your book would
know in an instant whether or not you understand grammar!!! No matter how
well you described for them how to select items from pulldown menus, they'd
become irritated at the seemingly random choices you made in elucidating
some grammar-related topics, while ignoring others. Think about the
discussions we have on this list regarding grammar issues. Are we so naive
as to believe that other professionals are less passionate about their areas
of expertise?

Stop kidding yourselves people!!! If you don't understand what you're
writing about, your user will not only know you don't, but will more than
likely be irked by what you've written!!!

This is the very essence of the "problem" with technical manuals. Good
technical communicators frequently publish bad manuals because, despite all
due diligence, they just have no idea what the hell they are talking about!!

Just my 14 cents,


bhandlin -at- chipcom -dot- com

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