Re: Help w/TW skills (long and provocative)

Subject: Re: Help w/TW skills (long and provocative)
From: "Montgomery, Kevin" <kmontgomery -at- LOGICON -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 1 Feb 1996 11:56:33 PST

Lynn Beene asked what are the most valuable TW skills she should teach
in her upcoming class. Several folks gave good and practical
responses. I'll throw out another that is a bit different and much
more difficult to define.

The best writers I've worked with, whether they bear the TW title or
not, are the ones who can solve problems. I don't mean just the
problems we face in structuring documents, juggling words, and the
like, but problems in subject matter, tools, coworkers, and the coffee
maker. The best TWs can face the unfamiliar and figure it out. They
don't depend on "the experts" to spoon feed them information. When
there are gaps in material, when they can't run a process, when the
darn machine won't boot, or when the project's due and they're on
their own, they pull through on their own. They don't whine, "This
isn't a technical writer's job!" or "I'm not a programmer (or analyst,
engineer, mechanic, etc.)."

Now, I'm blessed to work in a company full of topnotch problem
solvers, but I've seen many of the other kind come and go. Those who
failed were educated primarily as writers, or their careers had
involved little but writing. Those who succeeded have varied
backgrounds, careers, and passions -- and are also good writers.

Here are some mostly-serious guesses on what might help students
become super problem solvers. Have them solve problems! (Problem
solved! Darn I'm good. <grin>) Give them challenges not directly
related to TW. For instance, bring in some flaked stones from the
anthropology department and ask them to figure out what they were used
for. Give them a sheet of programming code in an unfamiliar language
and ask them to figure out what it does. Pass around a bicycle wheel
and ask what kind of force would be most likely to collapse it. Have
them design a gadget and carve a prototype from a bar of soap. Have
them produce a flow diagram using a totally-unfamiliar graphics
package in 20 minutes. Hold contests in punning and paper airplane
construction. Assign reading in "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive" by
John Muir, and maybe have them rebuild a carburetor for extra credit.

Yes, I know this approach isn't practical. Your class time is limited.
No schooling can substitute for living. Many employers are happy with
perfectly formed and specialized little TW cogs for the machine, so
why build something else? Just food for thought.

-Kevin Montgomery
kmontgomery -at- logicon -dot- com


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