Re: New slant: professionalism (not too long)

Subject: Re: New slant: professionalism (not too long)
From: Deborah Ray <debray -at- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 24 Apr 1998 14:39:47 -0600

At 12:16 PM 4/24/98 -0400, you wrote:
>So, I think we need to start at home and educate those among us who are
>bring us down--lead by example as they say--

I think this is a key point--educating by example, that is. In
my experience, educating people by telling them what we do
(as was mentioned many times in the Secretary's Day exchange)
doesn't work--at least not all the time. I'd say that most people
are, yes, interested in hearing about what we do, but does an
explanation mean they'll understand? I mean, if someone
said to me, "I'm a chemical engineer because I can analyze
atom composition changes during a nuclear explosion," I'd not
only potentially be lost in the jargon (I mean, I know what the
words mean, but what does it really mean??), but also might
not be able to make the connections between what was said and
how that information applies to the job he/she does.

I think the same goes for trying to explain what tech. writers
do. We can tell people that we're experts in audience analysis,
document design, information development, communication theory,
learning theory, and so on (which is about the same level of
jargon as the above example). But what does this mean to people
who don't already have an idea of what we do? If you think of
it in terms of audience analysis, not much! And, in
my experience, if you water down the descriptions a bit, we
do tend to sound like typing and page formatting experts.

For example, an engineer once walked into my office
and asked me to look at a document "from the technical writing
standpoint." When I asked what he meant, he didn't really know,
indicating that he really had no idea what a tech. writer does.
He could only further specify that he wanted me to "work my
magic on it."

At first I was irritated that he couldn't pinpoint
what he wanted me to do--edit? rewrite? restructure? etc. But
it dawned on me that he knew I could offer much more than just
typing and formatting--which was far more important than
him being *educated* about what tech writers do. He didn't
learn this from anything I ever *told* him about what I do;
instead, he learned this from working with me throughout the
development cycle and through seeing the resulting documentation.
(BTW, I did get him to articulate what he needed...just by asking
a few questions.)

Anyhoo, that's my $.02. I don't see that "educating" people through
explanation is the answer. Instead, we should continue to "work our
magic" and educate people through example. They'll get the idea.


* Deborah S. Ray, debray -at- raycomm -dot- com,
* co-author _Mastering HTML 4.0_, _HTML 4 for Dummies Quick
Reference_, _The AltaVista Search Revolution_, and others.
* RayComm, Inc., currently accepting contract inquiries.

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