Re: Not Wanted--Technical Writers

Subject: Re: Not Wanted--Technical Writers
Date: Wed, 17 Dec 1997 10:37:49 -0500

Don Sargent asked, "What do you think?" about the Washington Post
article dealing with a company that "simplifies" corporate
communications by turning long, complex, and largely unread manuals and
training materials into "plain English" user-friendly versions by using
not "technical writers" but "Liberal arts graduates."

Personally I didn't see anything novel or cutting edge about what this
company is doing. The only thing new is their marketing spin. I don't
know about most of you, but writing clearly and aiming my writing at
audience needs is exactly what I do as a "technical writer". The company
that the article profiles claims that it uses "liberal arts majors"
instead of "technical writers" because they are more creative and are
not so entrenched in the "old ways" of communicating. I find this
observation confusing because I am both a liberal arts major AND a
technical communicator, as are many of us. I don't think my college
major means that I can or can't be a good writer and a technical writer.
Last time I checked, they weren't mutually exclusive categories. I also
would argue that excluding someone because they are an experienced
technical writer or even an academically trained technical writer is a
bad business move on the part of this company. I guess they may discover
this the hard way.

The final paragraph of the article presents a before and after
comparison to demonstrate the improvements made by the company. It was
this paragraph that revealed the real problem that its clients are
trying to solve. The before examples were horribly written. I doubt that
many of them were written by anyone with the title "technical writer."
They were jargon filled and poorly organized. The after examples were
admittedly better. In fact, they sounded exactly like something a good
technical writer would have written!

What I think this company is actually doing is selling technical writing
services to its clients under the guise of fixing problems supposedly
caused by technical writers, which were in fact probably caused because
the client companies hadn't hired real technical writers to begin with.
So what, you say. This bothers me bacause it gives our profession a
black eye that is not deserved. I don't like someone coming into a
company and telling them that they can fix all of the bad writing
produced by "technical writers." It's already hard enough to convince
some companies that they need to hire professional writers instead of
just turning manuals or training materials over to the secretarial pool
to be done. The companies that are most in need of this company's
services are really just in need of some good technical writers,
regardless of their college major or title. What do the rest of you

Melissa Lowery, or

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