Subject: Re: SACRED COWS
From: Lin Farley <Lin_Farley -at- AMAT -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 25 Mar 1998 08:05:50 -0800

Yes. It is widely held here in the Silicon Valley that engineers can
write. The idea has long circulated that they have the know-how, so what's
so difficult about putting that know-how into plain english. No big deal,
And this is why we have so many aweful manuals. Manuals which don't make
sense, which are discarded by the reader because they are unclear, boring,
and virtually impossible to use. Manuals which make one blush they are so
hopelessly impenetrable. Okay, okay, so our engineers need a little
help with their english.
This will not help.
Writing is a skill. It takes years to learn to write well. And good
writing is more than functional english usage.
Technology, on the other hand, is accessible. The concepts can be
grasped. They are not nearly so difficult as has been assumed.
In fact, the old saw needs to be turned on its head:
Engineers Can't Write
That this is a tried and proven axiom is based on years and years of trying
to get them to do so.
Is this controversial enough for you??
I hope so. Because I am sick of losing jobs, opportunities, salaries
and promotions because of this supposed harmless old saw.
Writing is a skill. Taken to the ultimate it is an art form. At our
level of writing, skill is mostly what's required. But I have seen manuals
which were an art form. And when that happens we are worth every penny and
then some. Because we have brought the product into the hearts and minds of
the users. And they take off with it. They are emboldened and empowered.
If you doubt my argument, think of Apple. It is true that Windows '95
is Apple '87. And why was Apple so successful. Because the OS was
user-friendly. And that's what good writing is--User Friendly. A concept
with which most engineers are not simpatico.
Now, you may be the exception to this rule. And there are engineers on
this list who have crossed over. But come on, let's get real . Most
engineers sneer at the idea of good writing, or good documentation. User
Friendly is a house pet they acknowledge in passing. They do this because
they have no idea of what is involved or how much skill it takes. And we do
ourselves and our profession a disservice when we mindlessly,
thoughtlessly, and absurdly pass along this kind of myth.
I like being a tehnical writer. It is a profession. And not everyone
can do it. Certainly, no engineer I know. Well. Time for coffee and to do
some work.
I hope this is controversial enough for you. :)


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