Re: Fair wage

Subject: Re: Fair wage
From: "Wing, Michael J" <mjwing -at- INGR -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 13 Mar 1997 14:21:13 -0600

All right! One of my favorite debates is raising its head again.

>Why? Because I believe (and have seen people demonstrate many times) that
>it's much easier to teach a bright, talented writer programming or
>engineering than it is to teach an equally bright programmer or engineer
>who's a poor writer how to write well.

I couldn't disagree more. The "writing is harder than engineering"
response is usually made by someone who has never been an Engineer. It
seems to be the theme song of writers with an arts and humanities
background. They seem to find it comforting to think that Engineers are

I think that is much, much harder to teach a Writer to subclass objects
or perform step analysis on a circuit than it is to teach an Engineer
not to end a sentence with a preposition. I believe this because
whether used correctly or incorrectly, words are something that we have
all had in common since birth. Performing loop equations, frequency
response analysis, and so forth, is not. Therefore, the starting point
for an Engineer in learning to write is closer to the final goal than is
the starting point for a writer to learn to design.

Personally, I have both a humanities background (Education degree) and a
technical background (Electrical Engineering degree). I've seen plenty
of Engineers with adequate to excellent writing ability. I've not met
any Technical Writers who can design a circuit to compensate for the
effects of acceleration on a signal source. If you don't believe me,
compare the salaries of Technical Writers to Engineers. Even if it
could be proven that both sets of skills are equally difficult or that
writing skills are more difficult, the demand and rewards are greater
for those who can design products than for those who tell others how to
use products someone else designed.

>Don't forget, excellent writing ability is the basic requirement for someone
>producing documentation.

I somewhat disagree here. Writing ability is A basic requirement. It
is not THE basic requirement. Let's pick another basic requirement.
How about the ability to discern information?

Without the ability to discern information, a writer relies too heavily
on Smells. Because the information befuddles the writer, they just put
whatever the SME gives them into the manual. A writer with poor
discernment abilities has a hard time filling information gaps when the
SME cannot devote adequate time and attention to their needs. This type
of writer goes to pieces when information from different technical
sources conflict. However, a writer with good discernment abilities
gathers information from multiple sources, compares the information to
specifications/white papers/code/schematics, tests the application, and
then distinguishes what is valid data.

>Although you can train a poor or mediocre writer to write better, she or he
>probably never will become a great writer. An average writer with
>excellent technical knowledge may be just what's needed in some situations.

I'll go out on a limb. Adequate writing skills are probably enough for
our profession. Excellent writing skills are a plus. That is because
the purpose for our writing is to convey the proper information to the
reader. If, as a result of reading a document, the reader can correctly
use the product (or understands that the product does not do what they
want), I would say that the writing requirement has been satisfied.
Writing for us is functional, not artistic. The artistic side to
writing may be more suitable for other fields of writing.

>Mike Wing
| Michael Wing
| & Principal Technical Writer
| Infrastructure Technical Information Development
| Intergraph Corporation; Huntsville, Alabama
| :
| ( (205) 730-7250
| . mjwing -at- ingr -dot- com


TECHWR-L (Technical Communication) List Information: To send a message
to 2500+ readers, e-mail to TECHWR-L -at- LISTSERV -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU -dot- Send commands
Search the archives at or search and
browse the archives at

Previous by Author: Re: Getting the programmers to come to you
Next by Author: Re: Fair wage
Previous by Thread: Re: Fair wage
Next by Thread: Re: Fair wage

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads