Re: Eng vs Writer

Subject: Re: Eng vs Writer
From: MONETTE DENISE P 678-3843 MACA <dmonette -at- ARL -dot- MIL>
Date: Wed, 3 May 1995 07:43:46 -0600

Tamara made some good points. I think this is why it is a good idea for
technical writers to have *some* technical background. To earn my
undergraduate degree, I was required to take chemistry, physics, and
calculus just like all the engineering majors, and I was required to minor
in a technical or scientific field. I did not choose to work in the
field of my minor, but all the classes made it more comfortable for me
to work with scientists and engineers. I am far from being an expert in
any one scientific or engineering field, but I know just enough to know
when something doesn't sound quite right and I need to go to the
scientist or engineer for clarification.

I figure I know just enough to know when something needs clarification.
When I am working on technical documents, I assume that the entire
audience probably will not have the level of expertise of the scientist
or engineer; therefore, I can help them determine when and where the
documents need to be modified to address a larger audience.

As for the technical writer versus engineer debate, that is like trying to
compare donut bakers with police officers; they both do their jobs and
they each benefit from the expertise of the other. Thank goodness we
aren't all the same, life would be very BORING!!

* Denise Monette Technical Writer/Editor dmonette -at- arl -dot- army -dot- mil*
* *

On Tue, 2 May 1995, Tamara Peters wrote:

> I am certainly not trying to categorize all tech writers who do not have
> technical backgrounds, but in every tech writing project I've taken on, I've
> had to "clean up" after someone who'd never read a line of code. Or taken a
> drafting class. Or learned basic electrical wiring schematics, and what a
> resistor or capacitor really does to the current and voltage in a circuit.

> I have yet to meet an engineer or programmer who was at all impressed with
> what these people did. And the user manuals (generally aimed at highly
> skilled professionals) were anywhere from Ok to horrid. Simple things, like
> where output files go, were often overlooked or wrongly written up,
> resulting in "top priority" bugs for the company. Documentation shouldn't
> result in bug reports!

> Certainly my engineering degree did not qualify me to write. I have taken a
> lot of courses in writing and English (even literature!), I attend
> seminars/conferences whenever I can, and I read as much as possible. Still,
> I think the people I've come across recently with Tech Comm degrees have
> some great knowledge that I lack.

> I also believe there are issues of breadth vs. depth and audience, which
> really determine how much of the "inner workings" of a product the writer
> needs to understand. How do you know, for instance, when you've covered a
> topic completely? If it is a user interface, you can push the buttons, but a
> cursory reading of the code might lead you to a print statement that you'd
> never seen. You could then follow up on what made that situation occur. And
> if your audience is programmers and developers? How then do you evaluate
> your writing?

> ----------
> From: RSMH
> To: 1455; TECHWR-L
> Subject: Re: Eng vs Writer, BULL, Writ...
> Date: Tuesday, 2 May, 1995 4:03PM

> Tamara Peters writes;
> Won't it be great when Tech Comm programs in universities require enough
> SOLID technical classes that entry level writers could actually read and
> wire circuits, write and debug a C program, understand basic business
> operations such as accounting and human resources, and build a basic motor?

> I frankly don't agree that such knowledge is necessary to be a good
> technical
> writer. Could it be useful? Yes, of course. Do you have to know such
> information to be a good tech writer? I don't think so. I write software
> manuals (along with On-line Help and training materials), and I have never
> read one line of code. Yet I am able to write useful user manuals for both
> administrators and end-users. I am not debating that your knowledge helps
> you
> in whatever aspect of technical writing that you undertake, but for me, I am
> virtually ignorant of such things, yet still can write manuals.

> Ron Miller
> RSMH -at- AOL -dot- COM

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