Standards vs. creativity

Subject: Standards vs. creativity
From: David Neeley <dbneeley -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1999 10:26:57 -0700 (PDT)

Hello, all.

This debate has been very enjoyable and, I believe,
quite useful in helping us examine just what it is we
do as technical communicators.

Mr. Plato argues that creativity is stifled amid a
standardized approach. He says that a process
employing standards cannot "institute creativity."

The mediaeval violin makers surely worked with
"standards" (after all, they were making violins). Are
we to imagine they were not at the same time creative?
Isn't a Stradivarius or a Guarneri a product of
creativity? Each of them worked within a "school" in
which they taught apprentices, many of whom were able
to produce instruments of such brilliance that they
often cannot be distinguished from the work of their
masters. Is it even meaningful to ask whether they too
are the products of genius, or whether they were
merely the products of reasonable skill adhering to
rigid standards?

Many of us can confuse "creativity" with unlimited
freedom as to form. Much "modern art" is free as to
form, but there are those who believe much of it
somehow doesn't rise to the level of "art."

Picasso first learned to master traditional
representationalism. Then he began to depart from the
traditional standards. Unfortunately, some "painters"
who followed never quite learned to draw before
splashing colors around and calling that "art."

When we throw into the mix the absolute requirement
that we must effectively transfer useful knowledge to
the user, we cannot have anything which, while being
"creative," stands in the way of understanding.

Standards don't have to be a needlessly confining
straightjacket, though. For example, the Elizabethan
sonnet is very exact in its "standards" but can anyone
argue that Shakespeare didn't show "creativity" in
composing them?

If you choose the path of unbridled "creativity" you
can write anything you choose to call "poetry"--just
don't try to claim you are in the process writing an
Elizabethan sonnet unless you adhere to the standards.

There is a very good argument that we as professionals
can aid our readers by employing meaningful standards.
These standards, properly and, yes, "creatively"
applied, can result in a minimum of confusion and a
maximum of utility.

Perhaps we should more properly refer to our "craft"
rather than to our "art." After all, any craft can be
useful. In the hands of a master of that craft, the
results can be truly "creative" while still being


David Neeley
"Documenting a better future, one word at a time."


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