The English Major and the Engineering Student

Subject: The English Major and the Engineering Student
From: michael moore <mayhawk -at- HOTMAIL -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 16 Feb 1999 08:57:23 PST

Here's my spin:

Just as engineering is a specialized skill, so is writing. You don't
want an English major designing your highways, or a history major
conducting an appendectomy on your sister. It is not always the best
idea to have an engineer doing documentation to be read by an end-user,
for instance. The English major is trained specifically to communicate
clearly and effectively, and to analyze issues that might not be caught
on to by some engineers.

I have been an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves for a little over two
years now, and an experience back at Advanced Camp in 95 relates to the
whole issue of literary study being remote from the so-called
"real-world." We were running platoon level tactics, and a female cadet
asked one of our TACS (tactical trainer, essentially) why whe was doing
these tactics if she wasn't ever going to be in a combat branch as an
officer. The TAC replied that tactics are just a vehicle for the
problem solving that every officer will have to do. They were, for the
purposes of that exercise, a test of thinking and analytical skill.

Literature was also a vehicle for me when I was in undergraduate school.
I graduated in 1990 with a degree in English literature. I have also
had a strong fascination for technology. Computers weren't what they
are today. Now, it seems as though computers are an end of themselves,
as though the advancements are made more for the sake of selling more
computers. Then, computers were regarded as a valuable tool for making
the work you had to accomplish easier and faster. I still regard them
as such. I don't learn new software tools for the sake of learning new
software tools. I am always looking for a better way to do something.

I never pursued technical writing to "punch a ticket" on my college
transcript. In fact, there were no technical writing programs at the
school from where I graduated. The concept of technical writing was a
little unknown to many of the employers with whom I interviewed soon
after my graduation in 1990.

The point I am making is that studying English, whether it is literature
or composition/communication trains a technical writer to perform his
primary specialty function: writing. Just as the engineering degree
trains the engineer to perform his primary specialty function: design
better stuff for technical writers to document. ;-)

Michael D. Moore

> I am a retired military technical writer who is currently working on a
> Ph.D.-in-English. Having worked as a technical writer in both military
> civilian environments (Engineering generally, as opposed to software
> documentation), I am wondering what it actually is that the English
> can offer the future technical writer, other than punching a ticket
> needs punched on his college transcript. Since those who teach
> writing at universities often have backgrounds in rhetoric,
> literature, critical theory, and cultural studies, what can these
> disciplines bring to the technical writer?
> If you have thoughts, or resources you would recommend I pursue in
> endeavor, please pass them this way.
> Steve Amidon

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