Re: Subject Matters (was English Majors, etc. etc.)

Subject: Re: Subject Matters (was English Majors, etc. etc.)
From: Spencer Fleury <boylston_st -at- YAHOO -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 08:47:31 -0800

---Lisa Ann Miller <lisamil -at- ANET-STL -dot- COM> wrote:
> I have enjoyed the stir about promoting English as a base training for
> technical writing. I'm surprised I haven't heard from any Journalism
> majors out there.

I guess I've been remiss in not joining the fray on this, Lisa :). So
here's one Liberal Arts/journalism grad's take on it:

I consider myself a professional communicator first and foremost.
That I gravitated to this particular field is the result of my own
interest in technology and my personal need to be involved in creating
something of value (which is satisfied by writing the best possible
documentation for our software).

In my days at beautiful old FSU (rah! rah!), people asked me almost
every day what I was going to do with a degree in American Studies
(which consisted of classes in literature, history, social science,
you name it - anything at all relating to America). My answer was
always this: Anything I want.

I have to agree with Lisa that English (or several other Liberal
Arts-type majors) provide invaluable grounding for anyone who wishes
to be a professional communicator. If you want to be a SME, well,
that may be a different story.

At the same time, you do need to know your subject - maybe not
necessarily as well as the programmers, but certainly better than your
audience. Otherwise, there is no reason for anyone to read your work.
Technical writing without any technical knowledge behind it is
marketing fluff (which I've also written).

Forgive the forthcoming broad generalization, I think it's easier for
the Liberal Arts grad to learn enough tech stuff to write
informatively than it is for the engineer to learn to write clearly
enough to give his/her documentation value for users at a lower level
of technical ability (unless the engineer knows how to do it already.
My experience is that many do not, and many do not want to take the
time to learn). That's because a Liberal Arts course of study teaches
flexibility. I will not compare this to what engineering cirriculum
teaches, because I never studied engineering.

But really, anything that can be known can be learned. What matters
is whether or not the engineer or the English major is willing to put
the time and effort in to shoring up his or her weaknesses when it
comes to documenting.

Thanks for reading. Flame away!

Spencer Fleury
Trader Publishing


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