Techwhirling ain't a science? Maybe it should be!

Subject: Techwhirling ain't a science? Maybe it should be!
From: "Geoff Hart" <geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1999 10:25:26 -0400

Graham Wyatt asserts that <<Technical writing is not a
science. Perhaps the difficulty with the introduction of
standards is that it seems to be an attempt to pretend that it
is.>>

You made some excellent points. I particularly enjoyed your
observation that just because just because all caps text is
slower to read, that doesn't mean it's a bad thing. Cool! How
often we forget to explore the implications of a research result!

The assertion that technical communication isn't a science
leads me to wonder why not. After all, the definition of
scientific inquiry is as follows:
1. Based on an existing body of knowledge, form a
hypothesis.
2. Test that hypothesis under known, (semi-?) controlled
conditions.
3. Revise that hypothesis if necessary based on the results.
4. Repeat as needed ("replication", "independant
confirmation", and "iteration").

This seems to be remarkably parallel to the process of
technical communication:
1. Based on audience analysis, determine which of several
"best practices" and "standards" should apply to our particular
audience.
2. Create a document based on the hypotheses in 1 and
perform usability tests under a variety of (semi-?) controlled
conditions.
3. Revise the document if necessary based on the results.
4. Repeat as needed ("replication", "independant
confirmation", and "iteration").

So maybe the problem isn't that technical writing isn't a
science, but rather that we're not applying the scientific
methodology we already know we should use? (Clarification:
By no means do I intend to suggest that we should all call
ourselves "communications scientists" from this day forward,
and abandon all freedom and creativity. I just want to point
out that applying a little rigor to what we do can indeed take
advantage of the benefits of a more "scientific" approach to
communication.)

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"If you can't explain it to an 8-year-old, you don't understand it"--Albert Einstein




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