Techie First or Writer?

Subject: Techie First or Writer?
From: Daniel Wise <dewise -at- IX -dot- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 1996 20:35:59 -0700

Colleagues,

Perhaps a brief history lesson is in order. Back in the Stone Age of
technical writing, before word processors and machines that could
illustrate had been invented, the primary product for many TWs was military
manuals. The writers were often former army, air force, or navy technicians
who were hired to write the first draft because they could read the
schematics and were familiar with the functioning and assembly of the
equipment. Editors, commonly former English teachers, were hired to
straighten out the syntactical soup created by the often not-too-literate
techies.

Second scenario. The engineering-oriented company used tech pubs as the
"bone yard" for those engineers on their staff who couldn't cut it
technically, but were considered too valuable to just dump. Again, these
techies were responsible for generating drafts of proposals, manuals,
specifications, progress reports, and standards, and English-oriented
editors were hired to support them.

At times, miracles occurred. The techies proved to be rather competent
writers and the editors proved themselves capable of learning technical
subject matter. At other times disasters occurred. The editors proved so
totally devoid of engineering/scientific knowledge and skills that they were
unable to comprehend the techie-generated drafts. And some of the techies
proved so deficient in language skills that their drafts were totally opaque
to all but the most skilled editor.

So even 40-50 years ago, the techie-to-writer or writer-to-techie debate was
engaged. The debate was the same then as now. The results were the same
then as now. Have we learned anything from history? Apparently not much.

Dan Wise
dewise -at- ix -dot- netcom -dot- com


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