Re: Strong process creating a writer?

Subject: Re: Strong process creating a writer?
From: Lisa Higgins <lisarea -at- LUCENT -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 10 Nov 1998 10:44:35 -0700

So then, Eric J. Ray is all like:

> Taking this one step further--can a bad process (bad
> in terms of overly prescribed, unworkable, or impractical,
> as well as bad in terms of a complete lack of process, resulting
> in flailing and floundering) destroy a tech writer with
> potential?

Yep. For sufficiently large values of 'potential.'

I think it's very difficult to shake certain corporate brainwashings.
I've known very bright and talented people in the profession who had
almost religious devotion to some of the most indefensible rules,
procedures, and techniques I've seen.

But if they're bright enough, they will learn and grow over time.
They'll get to know their audiences and their technologies, and
realize that, to do a really good job, you must always take your
project as close as you can to first principles.

> I'm really thinking more of instilling bad habits,
> "this way is the only way" attitudes, non-audience
> orientation (as Simon alluded to), or other similar
> factors. Would these have potential to make a
> tech writer who survived in this kind of a bad environment
> a problem in other environments?

Absolutely. I'm going to touch on an ugly subject for this list, and
for me in particular right now.

OK. Ready? Take a deep breath. Prescriptive grammar. Every company
I've ever worked at had its own little grammatical quirks. Some won't
tolerate split 'infinitives.' Some won't end sentences in
'prepositions.' Lots of them really hate the passive voice,
regardless of context. I'm not saying they have a rule saying 'Don't
split infinitives' or something like that. I'm saying that they
believe that splitting an 'infinitive' is EVIL.To split an infinitive
is to undermine the intellectual foundations of human civilization.
And you don't want to do THAT, do you? Well? Do YOU want monkeys
taking over your living room, throwing their vile bodily secretions
all over your La-Z-Boy, squawking about their right to peaceably
assemble in your home? Do you, you horrid little descriptivist
weasel? I suppose You People LIKE being splattered with monkey dung,
don't you?

(Please note that, due to the proprietary nature of corporate style
guides, this is just a paraphrase, not a direct quote.)

> Tim and others who follow rigidly prescribed processes
> (internal, Info Mapping, Hackos by the book,
> whatever), do you have any insight to this?

I'm following about the most rigid process and structure you can
follow right now, and it's a danged good business decision for this
company, and a lot of people are very happy with this sort of
structure. It does, however, put newer people at something of a risk
of believing that this is The Way to do tech writing. We old cranks
know that, while this may be the ideal solution for this company,
right now, in these circumstances, it just can't be ported to every
situation with any real success.

As with almost everything, it depends on the person. Believe you me,
I've worked in some restrictive environments, but I'm a big
contrarian jerk, so I'm not at too great a risk of being assimilated
by the processes I follow.

I am, however, at a pretty great risk of being a big contrarian jerk,
and I live in a crude shelter I fashioned from dessicated viscera,
dry leaves, and snow; and I write all of my documentation in blood
and spittle. In the dirt. Without using articles or conjunctions. Or
anything that could reasonably be defined as 'language' at all. I
have opposable toes and eat bugs. If you have anything to add, please
do it by email.

Your Best Friend,
Lisa Higgins, or a giant bag of howler monkeys posing as Lisa

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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