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Subject:The "Oldest" Profession and Stuff From:Michael Blair <mjblair -at- TOTAL -dot- NET> Date:Tue, 28 Apr 1998 11:01:11 -0400
Hello out there...
I've been lurking for a while and following a couple of threads with
interest (and deleting others without reading). I'd like to put in my two
cent's worth on the history of technical writing.
Tech writing in one form or another goes back to the beginning of the
industrial revolution, perhaps even farther. Recognized as a profession?
Who cares? A profession is what you make it. Someone probably wrote down
mummification instructions in ancient Egypt. Just because he may have
been a priest doesn't mean he wasn't also a tech writer. How many tech
writers started out as something else, programmers, engineers, mechanics,
even - ahem - writers?
And if you'll permit me a little personal rant, the Sturgeon Law applies
not only to science fiction -- 90% of technical writing is crap. No doubt
I've produced my share. But as long as there's so much focus on the
"tools" rather than the "art" it's inevitable. I think the biggest
mistake a company can make is to insist technical writers be experts in
some piece of software, whether it's Word, PageMaker, or RoboHelp
(whatever the hell that is).
Take a good look at the design and writing on 90% of the websites out
there. Both stink. Big time. The people who put those websites together
know a hell of a lot more about HTML than I'll ever know, but they are
not graphic designers or writers.
I worked in the training department of a major Canadian transportation
company for a few years in the early 90s. They had a handful of so-called
"instructional technologists" and dozen or so SMEs developing and writing
training programs on subjects ranging from using proprietary computer
systems to welding rail. Not a single technical writer or editor in the
department (I took a job as a Macintosh network manager after my
technical writing position in another department had been "downsized").
The prevailing attitude was that ITs and SMEs could do it all (most of
the so-called ITs ended up in training because their jobs as programmers
or analysts or data entry clerks were eliminated elsewhere, likewise the
During one of the reorganizations that took place while I was there I
pointed out to the new department head (a firm believer in the principle
that ITs and SMEs can do it all) that hiring welders or diesel mechanics
to write training manuals was kind of like hiring technical writers to
weld rail or repair locomotives -- not very smart. He didn't get it. He
doesn't work there any more. Neither to I, but they are now my biggest
Do what you're good at. Leave what your mediocre at to someone who's good
End of rant. Have a nice day.
Blair Technical Communications Tel: (514) 989-8713
106 - 3500 Atwater Avenue Fax: (514) 989-7521
Montreal, Quebec CANADA H3H 1Y5 Email: mjblair -at- total -dot- net