Re: The Cattle Prod of Justice

Subject: Re: The Cattle Prod of Justice
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 1996 06:26:40 PDT

Angela Howard writes:

> I think if you joined an engineering list to learn more about
> something you were writing about, and you heard comments like "Few writers
> can understand this stuff, but maybe a few zaps of the cattle prod, and we
> could get them to tell the difference between a mutex and a semaphore", it
> would get a little old for you, too.

Hey, I'm one of the optimists! The standard line in techwr-l is that
engineers can't learn to write at all -- they'll just stare at the
keyboard and make little whining sounds. There's a strong contingent
in techwr-l that believes that people are predestined to be in certain
occupations (writers, illustrators, engineers, telephone sanitizers),
and cheerfully ignore any correlation between skill and training.

But not me. I boldly assert that many people end up being good at the
things they study, and are not so good at the things they didn't study.
The kid who shoots baskets for three hours every day makes the team,
and everyone gushes about what a natural athlete he is. The kid who
plays the piano all day long is a natural musician. The people who
write all the time are natural writers, the people who study mechanisms
are natural mechanics, machinists, technicians, or engineers, depending
on which kind of machines we're talking about, and how much schooling
backs up the person's interest.

But this is only one point of view. Other people on this mailing list
believe in Destiny. You don't learn skills through practice, you
practice because you feel Destiny dragging you toward your True Calling.
On top of this are a few other beliefs, such as the idea that engineering
and writing are mutually exclusive callings.

But I think that's all bosh, or maybe proto-bosh, since no one ever
states it as clearly as I just did. Some engineers are wonderful
writers. Many are not, but then most of them are totally untrained.
(For that matter, most doctors are better at technical writing than
I am at brain surgery.)

So, yeah, the "cattle prod" line is not tremendously respectful of
engineers and their writing talents, but it's more respect than you'll
get elsewhere on this list.

-- Robert

P.S. I'm an engineer, too.

Robert Plamondon, President/Managing Editor, High-Tech Technical Writing, Inc.
36475 Norton Creek Road * Blodgett * Oregon * 97326
robert -at- plamondon -dot- com * (541) 453-5841 * Fax: (541) 453-4139

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