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Subject:Re: The Scope of Tech Writing From:"Higgins, Lisa" <LHiggins -at- CARRIERACCESS -dot- COM> Date:Mon, 28 Jun 1999 10:55:35 -0600
Michele Marques <mmarques -at- CMS400 -dot- COM> wrote:
> I would not consider your hypertext on Emily Dickinson to be
> technical writing. Your analysis of hypertext systems is borderline -
> it is certainly about a technical topic, but I get the feeling you
> weren't instructing on how to create an effective hypertext system. I
> don't know about your math hypertext... it depends on the material
> you are covering.
I think this is unneccessarily narrow. If I were to write a paper about
Thomas Love Peacock's books, with discussions and explanations of his use of
synecdoche and zeugma and all that stuff, that'd be technical writing. It
may not be an ideal work sample or anything, and I'd probably have a hard
time finding someone to pay me to do this sort of thing, but I'd consider
that more 'technical' than step-by-step instructions for turning on a
We get a lot of flame wars on this list about what a technical writer is,
and what makes a good one, and a lot of the discord can be traced to the
fact that no two of us do the same thing. The 'average' person on this list
probably writes software tutorials. That doesn't mean that someone who
writes instructions for putting together lawn chairs or preparing cake mixes
less of a technical writer.
I don't see any benefit in making 'technical writing' exclusionary. Sure, I
guess it'd be a little easier to explain to other people what we do if the
definition were narrow, but it'd be stifling and inaccurate. I like that
this field is diverse. That's why I got into it. I don't want to be tied to
an industry. I work in software, hardware, and telecomm, and in those little
overlapping places in the Venn diagram, too. And I write everything from
little instructional inserts showing people how to screw things to walls to
white papers describing and illustrating technical concepts.
> In other words, I consider the content, not the format to dictate
> whether you are doing technical writing. If you use a fountain pen
> and vellum to write step-by-step instructions on how to create a
> web page, that would be technical writing. If you create a web page
> on the beauty of fountain pens and vellum, that would not be
> technical writing.
Yeah, but as I see it, it's not the topic, but the approach. I could
certainly write a technical paper about fountain pens and vellum. An essay
on aesthetics is probably a little too subjective to be considered technical
I review true crime books on a freelance basis. That's not technical
writing--although it does borrow from and lend to my day job--because it's
opinionated stuff by nature. However, if I were to take what I've gleaned
from that and write a technical manual about criminal paraphilia* or some
sort of instructional manual for bad guys or something, that'd be technical
* I think I want to do this, just so I can post lots of 'technical'
questions and surveys to the list.