Re: "It Ain't Literature, Y'know" (#656283)

Subject: Re: "It Ain't Literature, Y'know" (#656283)
From: Bill Burns <wburns -at- MICRON -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 5 Aug 1996 13:32:52 -0600

5-AUG-1996 07:30:19.87
Tori writes:

> 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.
> or
> 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.

I'm not sure why this particular structure strikes you as incorrect, unless you
are mistaking the gerund phrase for a dangling participle (in which case the
modifier would address something other than the subject of the main clause). In
fact, the first option is definitely ambiguous. The preposition "with" can have
more than one meaning here. Is the hammer physically "with" the wall, or is it
being used by a person? But, as you noted, this is a different issue than your
primary concern.

> 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.

He's right that most technical writing isn't great literature (yet--let's not
forget Chaucer's treatise on the astrolabe). However, if he's trying to suggest
that technical writing doesn't have to be as clear or precise as literature,
he's misinformed. Because technical writing is primarily affective (has
instruction as its end goal or drives toward informing an audience that has
ts own end purpose in mind), technical writers should be far more concerned with
clarity. If our aim were to write great literature, we'd probably be working
more with narrative, dialogue, and perhaps some experimental techniques.
(Hmmm--stream of consciousness software instruction?)

Bill Burns
Assembly Training and Documentation Supervisor

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