Re: Creativity and Technical Communication

Subject: Re: Creativity and Technical Communication
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- FS -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Sun, 30 Mar 1997 01:22:41 +0800

"Mark L. Levinson" <mark -at- MEMCO -dot- CO -dot- IL> said:
> "Creativity" is a misleading word. It sounds as if it means making
> a new thing, whereas psychologists tell us that creativity consists
> essentially of finding new connections between existing things. (So,
> for that matter, does a lot of humor.)
> But for the most part, the solutions to technical-writing problems
> are not particularly creative, they're just elegant.

Yes! 'Elegant' is probably a better word for many of the solutions we
think of as 'creative'.

For example, I might try several creative approaches to rewriting or
reorganising a difficult chapter. Instead, the best solution might be to
redesign the software: merge two screens, remove/rename/rearrange some
fields. If the product is designed well, I might even be able to do away
with the chapter entirely.

This is certainly not creative writing, or indeed any sort of writing.
It is, I think, elegant technical communication. I'm never very
interested in the "What do we call ourselves?" threads on techwr-l, but
this example highlights for me the difference between technical writing
and technical communication. If the product can speak for itself without
having to rely on a mouthpiece or interpreter, that's a triumph of
technical communication and a job well done.

> The downside
> of creativity is that personalizes your writing. You can get away
> with sounding like a distinct individual if you're writing a third-
> party manual like a "for Dummies," but not if you're supposed to
> be the definitive voice of a technically-oriented corporation.

Surely writing can have a clear voice without it being the writer's
personal voice. When I write a good page in a software manual it doesn't
sound like me talking. When I write a bad page it doesn't sound like
*anyone* talking, except perhaps Al Gore.

> If the customer of the Veeblefetzer receives a book that reads like
> "Joey's Take on Using the Veeblefetzer," then the customer thinks
> uneasily, "Would someone else have told me something else? Something
> more?"

It should be like dealing with someone competent, friendly and helpful
at the hardware shop. I wouldn't distrust the advice merely because the
person's style is distinctive and personal.

Stuart Burnfield (slb -at- fs -dot- com -dot- au) Voice: +61 9 328 8288
Functional Software Pty Ltd Fax: +61 9 328 8616

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