FW: Creativity in Technical Communications (short)

Subject: FW: Creativity in Technical Communications (short)
From: Jim Purcell <jimpur -at- MICROSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 1997 10:34:45 -0800

> Wayne Douglass responds:
> >Well, not really. Technical writing is exposition, not narrative; we
> explain
> >things rather than tell a story. Follow a recipe in a cookbook and
> you end
> >up with a dish, but I wouldn't call that a story either.
> OK, sometimes I wax romantic. Wayne is right, of course, that we do a
> lot of exposition and, he might have added, straight description.
> Wayne makes some other very good points about how we do what we do: we
> rely on boilerplate text, we use standard forms, we write in a
> self-effacing style. If we're writing for an international audience,
> we avoid idioms that don't travel well. Not everything we do is purely
> creative.
> To agree with all this is not to abandon my position that we do
> narrative. We do tell stories, just not literary ones. Software
> procedures, public works plans, aircraft maintenance manuals--even
> recipes fall in this category. We use exposition, description,
> metadiscourse, whatever it takes to bring about a change in the
> reader's circumstances: that file gets saved, that bridge gets built,
> that plane is ready to fly another ten thousand miles. You don't need
> to think in narrative terms to be a good technical writer, but it's
> always been a great help to me.
> Writers of fiction and literary nonfiction also use exposition and
> description in the service of a narrative. Poets use standard forms:
> the sonnet, the villanelle, the sestina spring to mind. By eliminating
> decisions as to form, style, tone, or what you will, the writer is
> free to focus her creativity on what is essential. In our case, that's
> accommodating readers to technology, as David Dobrin puts it. In part,
> we make a virtue of necessity, but I don't see our good work as coming
> in spite of these limitations. We adapt the conventions of writing to
> our purposes. Like newspaper writers, we need these external
> limitations to do our work at all.
> Jim Purcell
> jimpur -at- microsoft -dot- com
> My opinions, not Microsoft's

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