PHIL: Tech Writing Dichotomy

Subject: PHIL: Tech Writing Dichotomy
From: Benjamin Milstead <guilden -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 1996 09:12:55 -0500

First, thanks to everyone who responded to my query about tech writer =
backgrounds; without fail your replies have been friendly and quite =
informative. This list has good atmosphere and I look forward to it.

From at least a couple dozen good accounts of your experiences and =
education, it appears that adaptability ("pluck" as Bill Sullivan put =
it--very nice) as a writer, rather than specific technical background, =
gets the nudge.

Which surprises me somewhat, considering what many of the technical =
writer job postings ask for, not to mention my own experiences working =
with SMEs who have turned Writer (more often bad than good, though not a =
huge gap).

But as Bonni Graham said, "People writing the ads are very seldom =
connected to reality as we know it." Of course.

Which brings me to a larger question, really--the dichotomy of a =
technical writer--a dilemma of the division, if you will, between art =
and science. It's particularly interesting to me; I'm degreed in =
English and Mathematics and this all reminds me of college and the =
proverbial "writers" who hated science & math vs. the "engineers" who =
couldn't write (and didn't figure most liberal arts students had it in =
them to keep up). It doesn't stop with students, of course: how many =
liberal arts folks do you know that still resist computers, and how many =
technicians or programmers have you known that can't communicate worth a =
plug-nickel, verbally or in writing?

I've never been sold on the right-brain/left-brain theory--it's about as =
normative as formal English grammar, and it begs to pre-destine us into =
neat little niches, to deposit us into one category or the other . =
Kinda fits with the western corporate business model as well =
(coincidence?). =20

This is what's intriguing about technical writing--it bridges a gap and =
knocks down a couple nasty, smelly walls in the process. Perhaps this =
is why I, and others, are drawn to it (in the larger scheme of things). =
In its own way, it forces a resolution of the dichotomy, but not an end. =
Maybe the most important thing is not whether you win or lose the war, =
but how many battles you get to fight in.

Okay, enough syrupy egoromp. Thanks again for all the input--you've =
further shaped my perspective and given me a little =
understanding-ammunition as I continue to solicit freelance work. I'll =
try to shut up for awhile and do some more lurking.

Ben Milstead

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