Re: Role of technical Writers

Subject: Re: Role of technical Writers
From: "Wing, Michael J" <mjwing -at- INGR -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 8 Aug 1996 09:09:32 -0500

> Is it more important to uphold the integrity of the language in
> communications or to do whatever it takes to most clearly
> the facts? (I'm assuming there are times when it isn't possible
>to do
> both).

>The last point is where we might disagree, Chris. I think it's always
>possible to communicate clearly by using the language properly; in
>fact, I
>think it's usually *easier* than not using it properly.

>The purpose of language is communication. If it doesn't communicate
>properly, it isn't correct language. So when you're saying "uphold the
>integrity of the language," what langauge and what integrity are you

I'm a firm advocate that the facts must be correct before all else;
however, the "all else" must not be forgotten. Ideally, a document is
written concisely, clearly, and accurately. However, in the real world,
other factors impede this goal. Last minute changes, variations in
application designs, pushed-up deadlines, competitor's release dates,
Editor/Writer workloads, and so forth often gnaw at the document's
integrity. Therefore, the major flaws in a document must have priority
over the minor flaws when time/resources/product-status do not provide
the documentation group abundant time to work with a stable, completed

Major flaws exist both in language and technical accuracy. Ambiguous
statements do a disservice to the user regardless of whether one of the
interpretations is accurate ("Locate the red button and the blue button.
Push the button"). Perfectly constructed text that is inaccurate also
does a disservice. If there is no red or blue button to push, the user
doesn't much care how it is worded.

I have been in too many long meetings under shrinking deadlines where
Technical Writers have duked it out over using round or square bullets,
bolding or italicizing captions, using periods or parenthesis for
numbered steps, and so forth while ignoring issues like content,
accuracy, and usability. IMO, let the Editor make these decisions and
focus on the information to be presented. In one meeting, after
suggesting we drop the bullet argument and concentrate on greater
issues, another writer said to me, "But the user gets confused if they
were used to seeing square bullets in an itemized list and now they see
round bullets". To which I replied "The user sues the company if the
instructions tell them press the wrong button and a fire breaks out -
regardless of whether the preferred bullets appear before the

Another question extrapolated from this discussion could be, "What
compromises (if any) need to be made to correct language usage when
preparing a document for electronic language translation?" For example,
does the "Pound the nail" statement being tossed about in these threads
have restrictions in its construction if the document is written for

It seems to me in this case that the highest priority is establishing
clear communication of facts before and after translation. It may be
that this requires restrictions on prose.

Mike Wing

_/ Michael Wing
_/ Principal Technical Writer
_/ Jupiter Customization and Educational Services
_/ Intergraph Corporation
_/ Huntsville, Alabama
_/ (205) 730-7250
_/ mjwing -at- ingr -dot- com

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