Standards/best practice vs creativity

Subject: Standards/best practice vs creativity
From: "Tony Lupton" <T -dot- Lupton -at- astracon -dot- com -dot- au>
To: TECHWR-L digest <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 29 Oct 1999 09:30:48 +1000

Hi all,

I've been watching this debate for days and have not yet seen anybody
say anything along these lines (if anybody has, my apologies in

Technical writing cannot be compare to painting, or any other of the
arts, because art is created purely for the purpose of expressing how
the artist feels. How many of us feel inspired enough about a piece of
software, or medical equipment, or work policy, that we go out and write
a document (in whatever medium) about it?

We must recognise that we write to put food on the table, and as such we
need to defer to those who will pay us for our work. Does this then,
make technical writing commericial art, in that we produce what we know
will keep that food on the table? Certainly, but then our technical
writing does not exist simply a thing of beauty for which people will
pay money to admire. Our technical writing serves a purpose - to convey
information to an audience about how to do something.

Consider making a chair. A chair can be constructed out of pieces of
packing crate, nailed together, or it can be constructed out of mahogany
or some other timer, and elaborately upholstred and carved, or it can
push the limits of many would call a chair, and be an inflatable piece
of furniture, or verge on sculpture, but all are capable of being sat

Considering the progression from art to commercial art to
profession/trade, even for those who stop at commercial art, you have a

Now, if we want our patron (be they client, customers, or employer), to
pay us, then we need to keep them happy. If this means setting our text
in 12pt courier all caps, or writing in one solid block of text, without
paragraph breaks or graphics, or creating comic books, then so be it.
Not everybody has the luxury of being able to change patrons simply to
avoid "prostituting" what they believe to be right.

Even if we do have that luxury of producing work that keeps both our
patrons and our own internal "standards" (or lack thereof) happy, Our
development as technical writers has not happened in a vacumn. We did
not simply wake up one day and think "I'm going to be a technical
writer" and immediately produce a piece of work that was capable of
winning an STC award. No, we learnt from other people.

That may have been in a structured environment like a university degree,
or by reading literature that outlines best practice, or by working to
milspecs, or working alongside somebody. Or, more likely, some
combination of these.

Out of all of these experiences, we take some things, and we reject
others - we formulate our own best practice. We see what works and what
doesn't. Our response to these experiences forms a "standard" that
guides our work. Do we start each project completely from scratch? No.
We use a standard or best practice (either implicility by using the
results of our experience, or explicity by using the results of others'
experience (hopefully tempered by our own)).

Tony Lupton * Astracon (Australia) Pty Ltd
Learning Products Team Leader * * 303 Coronation Drive
Email: t -dot- lupton -at- astracon -dot- com -dot- au * PO Box 1656
Phone: +61 7 3368 6926 Milton Qld 4064
Fax: +61 7 3368 6999 * Australia

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