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: Diane Haugen <dhaugen -at- MEANS -dot- NET>
Date: Sun, 14 Feb 1999 14:41:50 -0600

At 2:37 PM -0500 02/14/99, Steve Amidon wrote:

>I am a retired military technical writer who is currently working on a
>Ph.D.-in-English....[snip] Since those who teach technical
>writing at universities often have backgrounds in rhetoric, composition,
>literature, critical theory, and cultural studies, what can these
>disciplines bring to the technical writer?

I taught English composition in junior colleges many years before I started
editing in the telecommunications environment. I left teaching English
because I felt we really didn't know very much about how people learned to
write and I wasn't happy with the methods used at the time (1960s, 1970s).

In the corporate editing environment, I found what I did to be considered
little better than something engineers had to be subjected to because
management said they had to have their writing edited, and for the most
part, the editing I was allowed to do was low level stuff. Any ideas I had
for better organization or clearer presentation were out of the question
because I was at the end of the line. Everything was cast in concrete by
the time I got it.

So I left corporate technical editing and returned to graduate school in
rhetoric and document design to see if I could learn more about the
relationship between editors and writers, and at Carnegie Mellon had the
privilege of studying under Dick Hayes, Linda Flower, and Karen Schriver.

I learned much at Carnegie Mellon, but while I was there business writing
had only really just begun to be studied in any depth. Those working in
this area found writing to be a critical part of many managerial jobs, but
a task most managers didn't consider a skill worth mentioning.

I learned much about the differencers in writing habits between skilled and
unskilled writers and learned that editing, even in the famous *Levels of
Edit* was confined mainly to copyediting and formatting functions. Yet all
the editors I knew realized they were actually, in a sense, capable of and
valuable for what has actually come to be called collaborative writing.
But in a corporate environment, the issues of ownership of writing become
so territorial that productive collaborative efforts can easily be thwarted
-- especially when the collaborator isn't an SME. A shame, considering the
knowledge effect so clearly described by Dick Hayes.

Editors and often even technical writers are rarely in the loop early
enough to be able to make significant, positive suggestions that are
implemented. After all, someone has already programmed the software
screens to inconsistently call the exit screen exit in one place and a few
screens later something else.

Certainly the technical writing programs offered by universities have
incorporated much of this information, but since I've been out of technical
editing in the corporate environment for such a long time, I'm can't speak
for whether this situation has improved much. I would hope that it has.

I much longer version of this summary can be found at my web site in my
article "The Nature of the Interchange between Editors and Authors" at

<http://www.wcdd.com/dd/articles/STCintro.html>.


Steve, you've asked an important question, but you didn't really identify
what kind of English program you were enrolled in, whether literature,
critical theory, rhetoric, or composition. In truth, I did not find the
study of Aristotle terribly helpful in my search for how we learn to write
(dodging tomatoes from rhetoricians), but the studies of how students
write, the differences between the writing behaviors of experts and
novices, the study of artificial intelligence and expert systems, our
increasing understanding of consciousness, and the studies of the business
writing environment (including online writing and editing) are, to my mind,
the really important things for technical writer programs to focus on.

Diane





===============================================================
Diane Haugen
Whiskey Creek Document Design
<http://www.wcdd.com/index.html>

Editor,
Document Design <http://www.rrv.net/wcdd/dd/index.html>

Associate Editor,
Old House Chronicle <http://www.ece.nwu.edu/ohc/masthead.html>
===============================================================


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