"It Ain't Literature, Y'know"

Subject: "It Ain't Literature, Y'know"
From: Friedlander_Tori <torif -at- KSL -dot- CO -dot- IL>
Date: Mon, 5 Aug 1996 08:09:05 EST

Before I ask my question, I want to say that I am new to this list and
I'm not at all sure that this is the proper forum. If I am in error,
please accept my apology in advance and I withdraw the question. If I
am correct, however, I would genuinely like to hear from other tech
writers who have thought about the same issue.

Here goes.

In recent months, I accepted a job in hardware documentation. Prior
to this, I wrote mainly software documentation for end-users. In that
life, I tried to write simply. I wanted to be easily understood by
people who might not be all that familiar with main frame computer

Now, I am writing for maintenance people who, presumably, have a
larger knowledge base to draw upon. THe needs are different. The way
the material is presented is different.

My problem is this: yesterday, I pointed out to a co-worker that I
thought the sentence structure he was using in a particular procedure
was incorrect. To this point, we have had a give and take
relationship where both of us felt comfortable going over problems we
saw in the other's work.

This time, he was somewhat angry. He said, "we ain't writing
literature, you know." He said that he had given the matter a great
deal of thought and decided that this was the best way to handle the
situation. He said that if he wrote,

Pound the nail into the wall with a hammer.

someone might use their head to pound the nail with rather than read
to the end of the sentence. Instead, he prefers to write:

Using a hammer, pound the nail into the wall.
Using columnar spacers, place the ....

Whether his sentence structure is correct or not, is one issue. For
me, the more important point was his statement, "this ain't
literature, you know." Its not the first time he's said it either.

Ok, Ok, I know that what we are writing won't even be read one time
all the way through by anyone. Its reference material. Its a way of
getting a job done. It won't last ten years or even two before its

But for me, as the writer, I believe that I should do the best job I
can. I strive for clean, clear writing. I believe that good writing
is invisible and that bad writing (be it redundancies, bad grammar,
etc.) detracts. I have watched people, with no experience as writers
or editors, try to read a piece of bad writing and fail to come up
with the essence. They get too caught up in noticing the mistakes.

My question is this, to anyone who cares to answer, either privately
or to the list in general, is he right? Am I trying to turn technical
writing into literature when I demand that the writing not become
slipshod? What say you? I would genuinely like to hear.



Tori Friedlander
torif -at- ksl -dot- co -dot- il

Famous Last Words: "640K should be enough for anybody."

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