Not Wanted--Technical Writers

Subject: Not Wanted--Technical Writers
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- FS -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Thu, 18 Dec 1997 16:06:57 +0800

After seeing the response to this article in yesterday's digest I
couldn't wait to be outraged by it myself. I was looking forward to
having my spine chilled by the wickedness of these heretics and
apostates. What I read was pretty mild.

Are we annoyed at Weber or at the journalist?

If it's the journalist, then yes, she misunderstands or misrepresents
what technical writers do, but that's life. Unless newspapers in the
U.S. are very different from the ones here, journalists write fast and
get things wrong and go on to the next thing.

If it's Weber, let's look at what he's saying: there's a lot of tech-
nical information that was paid for but not used because it's badly
written, badly organised, poorly aimed, and too long. Companies will
pay to have this condensed and made more clear and usable. He uses
young liberal arts graduates, so far successfully.

What would we experienced TWs say? On the evidence of this list,

- many techwhirlers complain about having to fix bad technical prose
written by others, whether stream-of-consciousness Engineerese or
legacy documents bequeathed by 'the last guy'.

- many techwhirlers believe that a liberal arts degree is a good back-
ground for technical writing.

- many techwhirlers, myself included, argue that diversity is an asset
in a group of writers.

- many techwhirlers write about the positive connection between their
work and their creative hobbies, such as poetry, music, history and
fiction.

I think what Weber is doing is very clever. He has found a neglected
patch of land in our vast overgrown jungle of information and has made
it bear fruit, to the profit of his clients, his staff and of course
himself. Not only does he use with young, cheap, staff, he's actually
found a way to sell their inexperience to clients as a big plus. If
you can believe the article his clients are happy with the result.

Sure he overstates his case, but that's what people in business do to
drum up business. Security consultants exaggerate security problems.
People who sell anti-virus software exaggerate the threat of viruses.
People who sell code re-engineering services exaggerate the scale of
the Year 2000 problem.

Of course there's much in the article that's annoying or deserved to
be challenged:

- the way he muddies the distinction between technical writing and
technical writers. Lots of technical writing is bad. Technical
writers write technical material. Therefore most technical writers
are bad. Therefore what you need a non-technical-writer to rework
your information!?

- they're not better than technical writers and they're not an
alternative to technical writers -- they *are* technical writers.
It sounds like they've found an excellent first job to start their
careers in the industry and good luck to them.

- the first example. As others have pointed out, the 'before' and
'after' say different things. Both seem pretty useless to me. The
second example looks much improved, but again it's really hard to
say without knowing the context.

- wow, jeans and no tie! Why on Earth didn't anyone think of that
before!

Has anyone written a letter to the editor to put our side of things?

It would be worth saying that, yes, there's a lot of bad technical
writing, but there would be a lot less if more of it were done by
professional technical writers and not overworked, underqualified,
out-of-their-depth programmers, secretaries, engineers and juniors.

Regards
---
Stuart Burnfield "Fun, fun, fun
Functional Software Pty Ltd In the sun, sun, sun. . ."
mailto:slb -at- fs -dot- com -dot- au

http://www.documentation.com/, or http://www.dejanews.com/



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