RE: Who dreams up these things?

Subject: RE: Who dreams up these things?
From: Adam Korman <akorman -at- epicor -dot- com>
To: "'Mark Baker'" <mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com>, TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 12:59:22 -0700

I agree that a process cannot ensure that content will be good, but a
process doesn't necessarily inhibit the creation of good content. Process
for the sake of process is pointless -- the content is the ultimate arbiter
of whether a process is useful. If without a process a bad writer will
produce bad content, and a good writer good content, I'd say:

bad writer + bad process = terrible content
bad writer + good process = terrible to mediocre content
good writer + bad process = mediocre to decent content (and an angry writer)
good writer + good process = excellent content (and a happy writer)

Obviously this is an oversimplification; the gist is that process itself
isn't inherently good or bad, it just helps you achieve extremes (positive
or negative).

Though technical writing is "an art," it is hardly so in the same sense as
the traditional arts (literature, music, etc.). Even so, your statements
about process and art (music especially) are not entirely true. Critics
haven't produced any worthwhile music? Consider Stravinsky, Copland and
Boulez (among others). They have not only written some of the most important
musical works of this century, but also some of the most important critical
texts. I agree that most critics can't produce worthwhile art, but critique
and artistic genius are not mutually exclusive.

That art does not have a process is just absurd. Though process isn't a
requirement of producing great art, processes in one form or another have
served composers throughout history. Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and John Cage
(among others) have used very explicit processes to create some wonderful
music. Much of the genius of Bach and Mozart (you may hate 20th Century
music, but who's going argue about these guys?) was in their manipulation of
form. Although they may not have used explicit processes, it was their
ability to fully internalize and play with processes that makes their works
stand out.

Jazz too has heavily relied on process. Going to any blues or straight-ahead
jazz club is an exercise in listening to processes unfold. Most music that
people consider great (classical, jazz, rock, whatever) is born of artists
working within the confines of a form or process, and exploring its

I'll try to bring this back to technical communication, I promise! The rules
of counterpoint that musicians have studied for years are a result of
analyzing the works of great composers. But if a composer follows all the
rules that Bach's work follows, for example, there's no guarantee he or she
will produce equally great music (in fact, it's pretty unlikely). But, that
composer is virtually guaranteed to create something generally pleasing and
that conforms to your expectations as a listener, even if it is

As technical writers we're not trying to write great literature. We're
trying to communicate information clearly and succinctly. In some ways this
is an art, but most artists set out to create works that have some profound
effect on the audience. Most artists would find it a compliment that someone
would savor the experience and want (or need!) to experience their work
again and again. As a technical writer, I hope that my audience is done with
my work quickly, and never has to read it again. A predictable, methodical
approach is much more likely to achieve this goal than reliance on artistic

IMHO, anyway.

Adam Korman
<akorman -at- epicor -dot- com>

-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Baker [mailto:mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com]
Sent: Tuesday, September 28, 1999 8:14 AM
Subject: Re: Who dreams up these things?


And yet, no professor of English has ever produced a novel worth reading. No
drama critic has ever produced a play worth watching, or a music critic a
song worth singing.
However thorough and valid the methods and findings of criticism, the
critical faculty cannot itself produce art.
Art does not result from the critical process or from a process
devised by critics to produce art. It might result from an artistic process,
if ever an artist could be persuaded to develop one, but skill in developing
processes is not seemingly a big part of the artistic faculty.
Is technical writing an art? Yes, in the sense that it cannot be reduced to
a formula and always requires the active application of the imaginative
let us recognize that criticism has a process, art has not, and that
collaboration is essential.

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