Re: Standard English vs "industry standard"

Subject: Re: Standard English vs "industry standard"
From: Chuck Martin <cwmartin -at- US -dot- ORACLE -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 1999 18:05:44 -0800

One response that could be used it that you are an SME in the technical
writing industry. But that's a rather specious argument, and not likely
to get at the core of the matter.

The rael solution is to become some level of SME yourself. That way you
can claim with some authority that it is not "the way it is done"
because you speak "the industry's" language yourself, and that you know
from experience that clarity--the clarity that comes from standard,
clear English prose--makes for better communication.

Quite frankly, though, I'd view such a response as rather belittling of
the skills and knowledge I've worked many years to hone, and I'd
probably act quite insulted--and let this engineer know it in no
uncertain terms. I'd make it quite clear that, while I've taken numerous
programming classes and dabled in various programming languages to
understand a lot of the basic programming concepts (as well as a few
details), I'm not any sort of programming guru. I am, however, the
technical communication guru. And I don't tell the SME how to program,
so the SME has no place telling me how to write.

The SME's response goes beyond covering ignorace of proper usage; it's
an attack on your competence. It's disrespectful. You may not be able to
deal with it non-confrontationally, but once you convince the SME that
you are quite aware of "the industry," the SME won't have a leg to stand

If that doesn't work, get the backing of your manager. If your manager
won't support you (and your expertise), brush up on your interviewing

Sarah Stegall wrote:
> Anyone else have this problem? It comes up time
> and time again while working with SMEs:
> I edit a document and return it to the SME in
> charge of it. My edits include such things as
> proper sentence structure and syntax, spelling out
> acronyms on first use, standardizing units of
> measurement (dB for decibel rather than Db). He
> returns it to me with some of the corrections
> returned to their former status, and with new
> non-standard entries, claiming that a) this is the
> way it's done "in the industry" or b) "everyone
> reading this will know it's done this way". My
> claim that my edits are standard "industry" use of
> English goes unheard. Worse, in emerging
> technologies there are often no "industry
> standards" to consult, such as IEEE's manual of
> style; it comes down to a shouting match.
> For the most part, the edits in question would not
> be disputed by any competent writer; it's a matter
> of someone covering his ignorance of proper usage
> by claiming spurious "industry" examples. I have
> had other technical manuals with egregious errors
> used as justification for bizarre punctuation and
> tortured syntax. Any thoughts? What's a nice,
> non-controversial way of dealing with this issue?

"Online help should ignore first-time users and concentrate
on those people who are already successful using the
product, but who want to expand their horizons."
- Alan Cooper
"About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design"

Chuck Martin
Principal Technical Writer, Oracle Developer
Tools Division, Oracle Corporation


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