Re: diffs betw tech and academic writing

Subject: Re: diffs betw tech and academic writing
From: "Marie C. Paretti" <mparetti -at- RRINC -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 25 Mar 1998 15:09:21 -0500

At 01:49 PM 3/25/98 -0500, Nina L. Panzica wrote:
> The whole point of techncial
>writing is to clarify, simplify, and to organize informational material in
>such a way that someone without a skilled background in the subject or an
>ability to follow sentences longer than 10 words or so can learn how to use
>or understand something without a great deal of anguish or difficulty.

I'm going to let most of Nina's post go, since she makes a number of valid
points (most notably, that academic writing often has a strongly
persuasive/argumentative purpose, though I don't see that as inherently
negative or necessarily conducive to "bad writing"), but I have to step in
on this one. *Some* technical writing is directed toward someone without a
skilled background, but clearly not all of it. As I just wrote to Lani
Hardage, in addition to "low level" user manuals (which include things like
"double-click means quickly click the left mouse button twice"), I write
system administrator/tech support guides to our system that are intended
for people who are NT certified, have a fair amount of networking
experience, and understand all sorts of system protocols and functions.

If I gave that manual to someone "without a skilled background," they would
be lost. Things like "make sure TCP/IP is installed properly on your
system and that all DNS addresses are correct" are meaningless to people
without the proper training. The manual does not include an explanation of
TCP/IP, it doesn't tell you what a DNS address is, where to find one, or
how to know if it's correct. If you don't know, you shouldn't be managing
the system. I don't want *experienced* readers to suffer "anguish and
difficulty" when they read the manual and learn to manage the system, but
in all likelihood, "unskilled readers" would suffer trying to make
functional sense of the text.

Like many on this list, I find myself very uncomfortable with broad-based
generalizations. To me, until you define audience and purpose (and I think
it is almost as difficult to treat "academic writing" as a monolithic thing
as it is to treat "technical writing" as a monolithic thing in these terms
-- journals in different fields have very different styles/functions, for
ex.), you can't adequately to assess and describe style, requirements, etc.


Dr. Marie C. Paretti
Recognition Research, Inc. (RRI)
1750 Kraft Drive, Suite 2000
Blacksburg, VA 24060
mparetti -at- rrinc -dot- com

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