Changing the Baby

Subject: Changing the Baby
From: Beth Agnew <bagnew -at- INSYSTEMS -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 19 Dec 1997 15:19:10 -0500

John A. Newman opened the line of questioning, your honor:

>(Rant coming) BUT, let's remember that we write (technically speaking
>[pun intended]) for a particular practical purpose and not for therapy
>(at least in our jobs). So stop whining when you're required to change
>your baby. (Rant done - sorry for all the parenthetical comments). ;-)

>There, now that I've opened a whole new can of worms, have a good day!
>And Happy Holidays!

>John Newman
>OTG Software
>johnn -at- otgsoftware -dot- com

John, you're right. Anyone who goes into the profession of writing has to
become inured to the multitude of changes that have to be made to anything
we write if we want to "sell" it. It could be a magazine editor, a book
editor, or even the development manager of a software product, but there's
always someone who (capable or not) will review and freely give an opinion
on our writing. No matter how traumatic the construction of that prose has
been, the changes can range from the substantive and constructive to the
trivial and pointless. ("Whaddya mean, 'It's not punchy enough'?")
Professional maturity comes when we can take all those criticisms in
stride, learn from the good ones, shake off the bad ones, and carry on,
with our self-esteem intact. (That's often something the newbies haven't
yet learned.)

But I agree -- it's frustrating to have to defend one's choice of words to
someone who doesn't know the difference between a screw driver and a bus
driver. Nuance, shading, pacing, emphasis, all are lost on editorial
cretins who want to have it their way. (Granted, there's not a whole lot of
that in technical writing, but there's some.) In a "my way or the highway"
situation, we pick our battles, smile graciously and do what we're told,
and/or look for somewhere else to work. I feel so fortunate to have finally
found a company where I have pretty much a free hand. Still, there are
contrary opinions, and occasionally decisions are made that despite my
protests, I must go along with. But I've seen worse. Much worse. <shudder>

In another post, Chris Hamilton wondered if bad writing wasn't sometimes
the result of bad management. I think that's true. Too often, we don't have
the time or resources to do it right, we just have to do it NOW. That's
where we're really challenged, to come up with decent writing under combat

As much as I still fall into the trap of occasionally becoming enamoured
with my own writing, sometimes that baby does stink, and well needs to be


Beth Agnew
Senior Technical Writer, InSystems Technologies Inc.
65 Allstate Parkway, Suite 100 Tel: (905) 513-1400 ext. 280
Markham, Ontario, Canada L3R 9X1 Fax: (905) 513-1419
mailto:bagnew -at- insystems -dot- com Visit us at:

See my friendly face at:, or

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