Re: Academic Pomposity

Subject: Re: Academic Pomposity
From: Paula Puffer <techwrtr -at- CEI -dot- NET>
Date: Thu, 13 Mar 1997 18:12:26 -0600

Sorry, It's taken me awhile to respond to this one, I've been busy with
work, and plus I wanted to try and avoid hauling out the asbestos undies on
this one.

>While I have decided--as I'm sure many subscribers to the list have--that
>academe just isn't right for me, I, nonetheless, appreciate the value of
>scholarly research. I'm extremely grateful to our colleagues who are
>willing to spend hours in usability labs and late nights crunching numbers.
>And truthfully, I feel just as indebted to those academics who stuff their
>noses in dog-eared copies of Derrida, as I am to those who count the number
>of times a user turns to a particular section of a manual.

I am another of those who has decided that for the moment, I am going to
stop with my master's and go into industry. And I agree with Paul on this.
The professors/instructors who teach at various institutions are very
important in the process of becoming technical communicators. I wouldn't be
able to do the work without my training in the university system. It gave me
a basis for the skills I use although often times I have had to learn skills
on my own to complete different jobs that I have done.

>Certainly, our academic colleagues provide the profession with a certain
>credibility it would lack without their support--and from the horror stories
>posted frequently to this list, I gather we need it.
>I am sorry one of our number found the
>_Journal_of_Business_and_Technical_Communication_, edited at Iowa State,
>worthy only of the circular file. Indeed, the journal may have (currently
>and in the past) an audience limited primarily to faculty, researchers,
>students, and scholars, but I for one am not afraid of getting cooties (nor
>eye strain) from reading it, nor am I frightened of reading similar academic

I'm gonna stick up for the folks at ISU. I went through the undergraduate
department there and the people there--Rebecca Burnett, Charlie Kostelnick,
Don Payne, Carol Leininger (just to name a few)-- did an excellent job
preparing me by teaching me the foundations of my career. My abilities as a
technical writer were shaped and enhanced there. I worked hard to get where
I am but they helped to make it possible and worked with me to help me reach
my goal.

I've spent the last year being in their shoes and teaching writing (grad
assistants have to support themselves somehow) and it's hard work! I've also
found out that right now the day to day of a teaching classroom is not for me.

>Academic writing in technical communication is a genre, and it is rife with
>jargon specific to a narrow discipline. But when it does its job: it is
>intelligible to its audience (for the most part). It is *not* technical
>communication itself--it is academic communication about technical

I've seen good academic writing and I have seen bad academic writing. The
President of my local STC Chapter is an academic and he wrote the some of
the best stuff I read about the Challenger Accident. It was good clean
prose, but it was also theory driven. It didn't stop me from reading the

>I think most of us would like to imagine ourselves able to adapt to the
>genre in which we write. And good writers will be able to write and read
>across genres. Sure, some academics would never make it in industry--but
>they're academics, so it's not terribly important. And I'm certain some
>tech writers wouldn't make it in academics--but they're tech writers.

Good writing and bad writing happens in all disciplines. I learned that
while writing entries for a bibliographic database at the Centre for
Indigenous Knowledge for Agriculture and Rural Development (CIKARD). I
skimmed several hundred articles/monographs/books covering topics from aqua
culture to sustainable agriculture. I wrote up blurbs about what I read.
And, I learned a lot about how good prose can make any technical subject
much easier to deal with.
>I've been given the impression that many subscribers to this list are
>members of STC, and I think the organization excels, primarily because of
>its ability to bring together members of research/theory and
>applied/practical disciplines. I know grad students read this, and I know
>faculty do too. Many will admit that scholarly writing can be pretty dry,
>boring, confusing, and PRETENTIOUS, but I will skip those articles, and they
>might as well for all I know.

Nicely said Paul.


Paula Puffer
techwrtr -at- cei -dot- net
Thesis Project: The UWC Online
Class Web page: RHET 1312
Personal Page:

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