Re: looking for sampels

Subject: Re: looking for sampels
From: Candace Bamber <cbamber -at- CASTEK -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 22 Mar 1999 08:57:00 -0500

Hi Sean
Interesting questions. I'm not sure they're the *right* questions, but the only
way to find out is to ask them and see what shakes out... :^)

>* Is there a community standard for good writing?
I'm not really sure what you mean. I would say that most people can *recognize*
bad writing and good writing, which seems to imply that readers must be using
something as criteria to make the judgment.

>* How is it defined?
Assuming there is a standard? I think the criteria are a combination of
aesthetics and utility (by utility, I mean, does the piece of writing fulfill
the purpose it was created for) But I think this applies to all writing: if the
artist who creates a poem is attempting to evoke a certain emotional response
(eg, nostalgia) and the emotion is not evoked, then the poem fails. Likewise, if
a procedure is intended to instruct a reader in how to easily program a vcr, and
the instructions don't allow the user to complete the task (or don't allow them
to complete the task "easily"), then the piece of technical writing "fails" (is
"bad"), regardless of whether the style and grammar are flawless according to
some standard.

>* What are the characteristics of good and bad technical writing?

Good technical writing almost transparently removes the barriers between not
knowing and knowing, and then between knowing and doing.

>* What are the issues of contention?

There are many. But the one that interests me most is the question of which is
more valuable in a techwriter: the ability to write well, or a depth of
technical knowledge. (I think that both are required, and that critical and
analytical thinking are required as well to bridge the gap, but that's another
posting...)I said in my first sentence that I wasn't sure you were asking the
right questions. This is partially why - your questions only relate to writing.
I think to get a sense of the reality of being a technical writer, you may need
to think more about content and thinking. There is tons in the archive about

>* Is there a significant difference between what technical writing manuals
>prescribe as the elements of good writing and those used by the community
>of technical writing practitioners?
>* If so, what are they, and how do you account for the discrepancy?

I believe there is. Books about writing are books. People who write use
judgment and strive to improve. No two people have the same judgment. When we
write for an audience of users, we have think our way through the audience, the
information, the uses to which the information will be put, where it will be
used, barriers to using it, why we're even writing it, how much time we have,
how much money we can spend on producing it, who we have to help us, what their
abilities are, what forms are available, which forms are wanted, what level of
information to provide, how to best provide it, etc, etc. Each piece of
technical writing considers so many things besides "the standards" - grammar,
usage, style are just a framework on which people hang a solution they have made
for other people. If the framework fails, then of course the technical document
fails. *But likewise, if our judgment fails - if the *solution* doesn't work,
then the technical document fails as well.*.

>* What affect does the rapid advancement of technology have on any
>disparities between prescription and practice?

I mentioned above that people strive to improve, then didn't follow it up. I
think the key contribution of technology is that it allows us to improve faster
because we can communicate with each other and learn from each other (in forums
such as this, for example). It also allows us to innovate more easily in terms
of form. And, it makes finding the "solution" harder because there are more
possibilities. But the solutions are still human solutions for human problems,
and language (prescriptive or otherwise) is still language.

>* What is the effect of a virtual community on the development of

We have more opportunity to argue about them. Seriously, I consider this a
benefit. Sometimes, as a member of this community, I learn something *completely
new* about stuff I figured I had mastered. Sometimes I adopt a new standard into
our company style guide on the basis of what I learned here. But currently, the
"community" doesn't and can't prescribe standards and I don't think it would be
desirable - a little too Orwellian for my taste.

Anyway, I couldn't go into the throes of detail I would have liked to, but your
questions are definitely food for thought. If you'd like to follow anything up,
you can email me direct. Good Luck with your project.


Candace Bamber
mailto:cbamber -at- castek -dot- com

Putting the Future Together

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