Re: Appealing to or introducing Tech Comm "best practices"

Subject: Re: Appealing to or introducing Tech Comm "best practices"
From: "Graham Wyatt" <graham -at- gpwyatt -dot- co -dot- uk>
To: "TECHWR-L, a list for all technical communication issues" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1999 12:13:04 +0100

> If we deny the validity of approaching what we do
> methodologically, if we deny the existence of standards,
> then we're really asserting that the products we make are
> the result of accident or magic. I don't think that either
> of these views of our craft squares with reality, or that
> either advances our profession, especially given the fact
> that most of the people we work with are engineers and
> scientists. Their world is founded upon methodology and
> principles that ensure the predictability of results.


I think that a third (and better) option would be to say that the best of
the products we make are a result of skill, which is a mixture of accident,
magic, deep intuition, conscious thought, experience, and a whole lot of
other factors that we haven't begun to understand or define. In other words
it is complex, much more complex than can be detailed in any list of methods
and procedures that I can conceive of.

If you are going to appeal to concepts of reality or the techniques of
science to
support your argument, then you need to look a little deeper. The early
Victorians thought that we could produce an adequate description of reality
by making lists of things and subdividing them into categories. These days,
we understand that to be an over-simplification. Reality is fuzzy. Truth is
fuzzy. Life is fuzzy. Above all, the human mind (the target that our
products are aimed at) is fuzzy. If you want to communicate with a human
mind effectively then the methods you use must also be a little fuzzy.

The problem with the Victorian lists and categories was not that they were
right or wrong. It was the general presumption that it was possible to
define reality in this way. This attitude put a such a stranglehold on
original thought that it threatened to kill off scientific development
altogether. Releasing that stranglehold needed a big fight, but it had to be
done to allow any further progress to be made.

I think that a similar situation exists with the introduction of standard
methods and procedures in technical writing. These things can be extremely
useful as training tools for novices, or as a means of co-ordinating the
efforts of a large number of people, but they should come with a big health
warning. As soon as this or that methodology is seen as the "right way" to
do things, that signals the end of all thought, creativity and development
in that particular area.

Are we close enough to an ideal to be able afford to do that?

I certainly don't think I am, and I see little evidence that anybody else
is. I think that we will need to keep on "re-inventing the wheel" until
someone come up with a perfectly circular one. Then, and only then, we
should write a standard for it.

Until that time, we should be honest and admit that we don't know exactly
how we
do what we do. That seems to be the only way that we are ever going to find

Graham Wyatt

GP Wyatt Technical Services Ltd
Training and Product Documentation Specialists
mail: graham -at- gpwyatt -dot- co -dot- uk
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