Re: Not Wanted--Technical Writers

Subject: Re: Not Wanted--Technical Writers
From: Beth Agnew <bagnew -at- INSYSTEMS -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 16 Dec 1997 15:21:28 -0500

Tony G. Rocco wrote:
> The lesson to be learned from this article, IMHO, isn't merely "know thy
> audience," as many have averred. I think it is more profound than that.
> lesson to be learned is that a whole new approach may be needed to make
> technical information usable to nontechnical people.

It's not a new approach. That's the thing. Techwriters have been making
complex information simple for, well, centuries. It's at the core of what
we do. We are the bridge between the SMEs and the naive users. It doesn't
matter what the subject matter is, whether it's nuclear physics or
gardening, we figure out how to explain things to people so that they can
understand. To do that, we learn how to shape the information into its most
usable form for absorption by the target audience.

> Instead of the defensive responses that I have heard from my fellow tech
> writing comrades, it would be nice to hear someone acknowledge that there
> is something to be learned here. And it has nothing to do with
> mapping, readability indexes, chunking, grammar, etc.

> PS: Another lesson here: tech writers respond pretty much as anyone else
> would when chinks are found in their armor. They are often reactive,
> arrogant, and dismissive.

We have every right to react to something that's just plain wrong. I'm not
saying Weber & Associates cannot carry out their business. If they have
found a niche and are providing a valuable service, then I wish them all
the best. I gnash my teeth a little at the reporter who slanted the piece
in a way I perceive as inaccurate, but I understand how that happens.
Accuracy is a hallmark of technical writing, but it certainly isn't (though
it should be) in journalism. Still, if I had the opportunity to tell my
story in the likes of the Washington Post, I wouldn't hesitate a second.

There's a lesson to be learned here, all right, it's that we will continue
to be misunderstood as a profession until there are articles in the popular
press that accurately describe who we are and what we do.

(So, okay, I've burned up more than my share of the wires on THIS topic!
Just don't get me started ... :-) )

Beth Agnew
Senior Technical Writer, InSystems Technologies Inc.
65 Allstate Parkway, Suite 100 Tel: (905) 513-1400 ext. 280
Markham, Ontario, Canada L3R 9X1 Fax: (905) 513-1419
mailto:bagnew -at- insystems -dot- com Visit us at:

See my friendly face at:, or

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