Subject: Re: SACRED COWS
From: Janet Valade <janetv -at- MAIL -dot- SYSTECH -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 25 Mar 1998 10:14:36 -0800

<<OK maybe it is easier to learn to write than to learn to

I'm not sure this is exactly the premise we are discussing, but
I disagree anyway. I do both and I think it is easier to teach
programming than writing. Now I am trying to decide/explain why I feel
this way.

I have always been a writer. I was the "kid who writes stuff"
in kindergarten. If I hadn't discovered my fascination with computers
and become a tech writer, I would probably be a newspaper reporter or a
novelist. Or I could write about health and medical things, because I
find that fascinating also. Of course, I could also write about things
that are not fascinating, but I don't want to.

How would you teach someone who did not know how to write? You
can't say, pretend you are saying this to someone, only write it down
instead. Writing is much different than speaking. You can't say, use
one verb and one noun and add two adjectives. It's not that simple. I
really wouldn't know how. I believe good writing skills come from a lot
of reading (I have never met a writer who was not a voracious reader
(I'm sure one of you out there will point one out to me)) and gazillions
of written words. As I say, I have been doing it so long, it just
happens. Like walking. You can certainly take someone with some
aptitude and writing skills and teach them things that will make them a
better writer. But I wouldn't know where to start with someone who had
no ability to express themselves on paper.

On the other hand, programming is a finite set of skills that I
would know how to teach. Syntax is a set of rules. You teach people
where the semi-colons go. Logic is more difficult, but I can see how to
teach it.

Engineers may be something else. I am not an engineer, although
I am a tech writer at an engineering firm, and I am not sure exactly
what engineers know. I obviously wouldn't know how to teach it, but it
seems to me that it must be finite set of rules that can be taught.

Of the engineers here, I would say 80% write well enough.
Possibly 25% are excellent writers. One actually even likes to write.
On the other hand, I know more about some technology than some of them
do. It's a question of what your interests are. No one can know the
technology of everything.

Anyway, I would like to see more concrete discussion from those
who believe technical stuff is more difficult than writing. What
exactly about writing is so easy to teach and how do you teach it, and
what about technical stuff is so difficult to teach.


Janet Valade
Technical Writer
Systech Corporation, San Diego, CA
mailto:janetv -at- systech -dot- com

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