Us and Them (was Re: Writers first )

Subject: Us and Them (was Re: Writers first )
From: Betsy Perry <betsyp -at- VNET -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 1996 11:21:18 -0400

------- start of forwarded message -------
Robert Plamondon said, responding to another posting,

> It's much easier for a writer to learn technical
> concepts than for an engineer to produce lucid, organized prose.

I don't believe this for a second. What I *do* believe is that writing
lucid, organized prose requires the desire to improve and a great deal
of practice. Few engineers score even 50% on those requirements. But
engineers are at least as trainable as, say, bears. A few zaps of the
old cattle prod for screwing up, a few treats for shambling through the
dance more or less correctly, and we'd turn them into ballerinas in
no time.

--------
Robert was witty and didn't say anything objectionable. But the
exchange reminded me of something that's been bothering me for some years.

I am responding because I am troubled by technical writers' practice
of praising themselves by demeaning the engineers they work with.
Some of the best writers I know are engineers -- consider William
Horton, an MIT graduate and a registered professional engineer, the
author of *Designing and Writing Online Documentation*, which is
lucid, intelligent, and full of hard-won knowledge. Fred Brooks,
distinguished computer scientist and author of *The Mythical
Man-Month*, has a style that reminds me of E.B. White in its concision
and self-deprecating charm. I would be proud to sharpen either
engineer's pencil (or unstick his DELETE key.)

In the last five years I've worked with three or four software dudes
who could make a living as writers without breaking a sweat. When I
encounter one such, I sing Hallelujah!, give his or her work a very
light edit, and proceed with glee to devote extra time to working with
the less-articulate engineers. I'm not a good technical writer
because my engineers can't write; I'm a good technical writer because
I love writing, and because I do it well. I write better than most
engineers I know; when I encounter an exception to the rule, I am
surprised and delighted, and I do my best to learn what he or she has
to teach.

We're not good because engineers can't write; we're good because we
*can*.

Humming "The Farmer And The Cowman Should Be Friends",

Betsy Perry
Parcplace-Digitalk
--
Elizabeth Hanes Perry betsyp -at- vnet -dot- net


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