Re: Fair wage

Subject: Re: Fair wage
From: Bill Bledsoe <Bill -dot- Bledsoe -at- CMS-STL -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 13 Mar 1997 14:45:14 -0600


For once... I've got to agree with Mike on some of this... more below

Wing, Michael J wrote:
> >
> >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
> illiterate.

While I don't think we all have to be engineers to do our jobs (in the
case of more user oriented documentation... too much technical knowledge
by the writer could obscure the user's point of view the TW needs to
represent) I will say that with the advent of online communications, we
writers could do very well to borrow a more methodical, process-based
approach to what we develop. <For example, JoAnn Hackos' PMM for tech
pubs departments is based heavily on the Sofware Engineering Institute's

I am a writer by training (Journalism grad from the #1 J-School on the
planet thankyouverymuch!) but lets face facts: HTML and WinHelp
development are a form of coding. This is engineering work, and some of
the discipline needs to be applied to the field of online
communications. If we as techincal writers want to grow our careers and
have a "say" in the ever expanding world internet driven technology,
we'd better quit the "engineer's can't write" banter... and get to the
business at hand: Learning something from engineers that can in turn
better our careers.

Personally... I've never had a problem getting engineers to review what
I am doing. I am interested in their work, I listen to them, I ask them
"how's it going" a lot... and when I don't understand something I either
look it up, or ask them to explain... right on the spot. This has
served me very well to date.

> 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.

I agree here, but maybe for different reasons. Typically, writers I've
seen just have a general disgust for many technical subjects (like
object oriented design, development, etc.) but I've chosen to try and
learn from the different areas and try to use the best of each to make
my communications to whatever audience, a little better.
> 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.

You know though... I'm not concerned nearly as much about the writer who
couldn't do it at the beginning, as much as the one who says: "that's
too technical... I won't even try."

> 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.

While software engineers are certainly in demand... some of us online
communicators are starting to get in the neighborhood... I just think
that you can't say one is harder than the other without a significant
arguement from each side. My thought is... forget the squabbling...
let's just learn from each other so we can do a better job together.

> >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?

I agree 100% here. This is the only reason I have the type of job I
have. Not only can I discern information and present it to a
non-technical audience, through talking with technical audiences to draw
out infomation... I've learned what's important for more technical
audiences as well. Writing is a tool, just like design, style, etc.

> >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

Just my $.02 worth...
Bill Bledsoe
Senior Technical Writer - CMS
St. Louis, MO
Bill -dot- Bledsoe -at- cms-stl -dot- com or intlidox -at- anet-stl -dot- com

"I'm out on a limb where the fun begins"
Adrian Belew/The Bears - "Fear is Never Boring"
If Bill Said it, Bill Said it... Not CMS. Got it?

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