Re: Make It Pretty

Subject: Re: Make It Pretty
From: "Race, Paul" <pdr -at- CCSPO -dot- DAYTONOH -dot- NCR -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 1994 21:00:00 EST

Debbie Molinaro said:

>There's a fellow in my chain of command who refers to our work
>(Technical Publications Department) as "making it pretty."
>As you might guess, I find this statement offensive, but through the grace
>of God, managed to hold my tongue when I heard it.

>I need some perspective here from fellow professionals. I'd also like a
>clever one-liner to quip back.

Paul -dot- D -dot- Race -at- daytonoh -dot- ncr -dot- com says:

Your coworker isn't trying to diminish the importance of what you do; she's
trying to translate it into terms non-writers can understand. Turning
incomprehensible gibberish into documents that are so well-worded and
well-organized that neophytes can find and understand what they need the
first time they crack the book (or disk) is a lot more than "making it
pretty." But to a lot of technical managers, the incomprehensible gibberish
is "perfectly" understandable from the outset, and they don't see why
there's a problem. So "making it pretty" is one way of indicating that
there's still some work to be done once it leaves the engineer's desk, at a
level that non-writers can at least relate to.

Unfortunately, her particular choice of words seems to diminish what you do.
I often say things like "turning it into English" to describe the same
function, although, as you know, just making the wording comprehensible is
only a fraction of what we do. "Making it usable" might be even better.

Only reason I can think of that "making it pretty" might be "safer" is that
sometimes the engineers have such pride of ownership in their writing, that
they're afraid to turn it over to you for fear you'll ruin it. In that
case, saying, "Here, let me have that, and rephrase every sentence to make
it more understandable, and reorganize the contents so people can actually
find something," threatens their sense of ownership, and is an insult to
their misplaced, but jealously-guarded pride in their own ability to write.
So if you can say, "Here, let me pretty that up for you," they'll be a
little more likely to relinquish their text.

So, what can I say, politics and interpersonal relationships may force us to
diminish the importance of what we do to our sources, but outside of that
circumstance, I would prefer stronger language, like "making it usable," so
the people who pay our checks know that we're doing something more than
changing the appearance on the page.

Hope this helps. - p/r

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