Re: Who dreams up these things? (long)

Subject: Re: Who dreams up these things? (long)
From: "Mark Baker" <mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 29 Sep 1999 11:01:04 -0400

Adam Korman writes

>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
>good writer + good process = excellent content (and a happy writer)

But would you say that the process which turns the bad writer's content from
terrible to mediocre is the same process which turns the good writer's
content from decent to excellent?

> I agree that most critics can't produce worthwhile art, but critique
> and artistic genius are not mutually exclusive.

Perhaps not. But my point is not that they are mutually exclusive but that
they are not the same thing. Critical brilliance isn't per se artistic
brilliance. Critical process is not artistic process.

>That art does not have a process is just absurd.

Different uses of the word "process". Process in the sense of business
and process maturity models is specifically about repeatable processes that
get consistent results no matter who the practitioner. Several people who
have posted on this topic insist that process in necessary to achieve
consistent results across many writers.
> 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.

Indeed. But could they externalize their process? And if they did
externalize it, could others with the appropriate training in music theory
follow their process and consistently produce works of equal brilliance?
It does not seem so.

>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

Studying the rules of counterpoint is not studying the process of
composition. Studying the rules of grammar is not studying the writing
It is knowing your medium, it is not process.

Writers who know the grammar of the language they work in (either by study
or immersion) are virtually guaranteed to produce better writing than those
who do not. This tells us nothing about process.

Those who demand process for the sake of consistency must surely recognize
that if you cannot test the results, you cannot make any claims about
consistency. The problem this raises is that if we task ourselves to measure
something, we tend to look for its most easily measured qualities. We will
then seek to optimize those easily measurable qualities.

But if its most important qualities are not measurable, or not easily and
economically measurable, them we may be ignoring the primary qualities in
favor of the more easily measured secondary qualities. Our quality metrics
will then go up, and our actual quality will go down.

A process that focuses on the most important qualities of a product and
consistently and reliably enhances those qualities is a great and wonderful
thing. A process that focuses on the most easily measured qualities of a
product is a destructive and dangerous thing.

If you are not measuring, you have no process. The essential question is
this: when we implement a technical writing process, are we measuring the
right things?

Is it possible to measure the right things about technical writing? For most
of the peripheral crafts, certainly. For the writing itself? I'm not sure.

I recently attended a presentation on <well known writing methodology>. It
included a information retrieval exercise in which we were first asked to
find a particular pieces of information is a page long memo written in
paragraph form. Response times varied from 5 seconds to 30 seconds. Then we
were presented with the same material structured according to the process of
<well known writing methodology>. The information we needed was in a table
in the middle of the page. Everybody found it at the same time. Response
time: 2 seconds.

Problem is, as I looked at the second example later I realized that I had
picked the wrong information. I had chosen the value from column two of the
table, but the correct information was in column three. I asked a couple of
other people what they had picked. They had made the same mistake I had.

The exercise measured response time without measuring accuracy. I'll bet
many of the participants picked the wrong information and never knew it.
Probably some of those will implement <well known writing methodology>.

Creating a process that measures things that are easy to measure is easy.

Measuring the right things is hard.

Mark Baker
Senior Technical Communicator
OmniMark Technologies Corporation
1400 Blair Place
Gloucester, Ontario
Canada, K1J 9B8
Phone: 613-745-4242
Fax: 613-745-5560
Email mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com

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