Re: The English Major and the Engineering Student: What can they learn from each other?

Subject: Re: The English Major and the Engineering Student: What can they learn from each other?
From: Elna Tymes <etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 14 Feb 1999 12:07:28 -0800

Steve Amidon wrote, in part:

> I am wondering what it actually is that the English major
> can offer the future technical writer, other than punching a ticket that he
> needs punched on his college transcript.

Unfortunately, the current market for technical writers sees little need for
people with analytical backgrounds in language, and much more need for those
who can translate techno-geek into language that mere mortals can understand
and use. However, that emphasis on expediency may be in the process of
changing.

Less than five years ago, there was little or no demand for those who could
construct Help systems. Therefore people sought as technical writers were not
valued for their ability to think in search strategy terms, except maybe when
someone wanted a really, really good index. These days, with the ability to
search the internet so commonplace, good technical writers are generally
assumed to understand how to construct a Help system, or at least how to
construct a good set of links in an HTML file.

The emphasis in this current set of skills, then, is not only in delivery of
information (which is language-based), but in use of tools to help the user
find the information desired. What a lot of programmers have learned is
importance of the user interface, i.e. the way information is presented to a
user. One would think this would be more in the province of the technical
writer, but the way program design works these days, it hasn't happened that
way.

If we extrapolate from these observation points, one could deduce that
technical writers will become even less involved in program design, and
increasingly concentrate on explaining what the user sees and how to work with
it or get around it. I would prefer to think that writers, with their inherent
concentration on acquisition and use of information, would become more
intrinsically involved with the whole stream of information - from initial
acquisition, through passing through various interlinked systems, and
ultimately to presentation to and interpretation for different groups of users.
However by broadening the scope of what technical writers *can* do, one enters
the world of territoriality, and in particular the turf of the programmer. I'm
not so sure that this will happen, unless some other factor makes the process
worth while (such as the engineering world, perceiving that writers cost less
than programmers, decides that having writers design program interfaces is a
cost-effective thing to do).

Sorry, but I think your PhD. in English is going to be worth as much as
shouting into a gale.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems


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