Re: How times have changed?

Subject: Re: How times have changed?
From: "Wing, Michael J" <mjwing -at- INGR -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 16 Nov 1998 08:58:41 -0600

> This is a subject that haunts me. We currently have a company in town that
> supplies dozens of supposed "tech writers" in projects that are actually
> clerical; they really ARE typing up engineers' notes. We have many "tech
> writers" hereabouts who know how to type in Microsoft Word, but can't even
> form grammatical sentences. Yet they find work, year after year.
.... and in my guess, undercut self-proclaimed "legitimate"
technical writing contractors;^) This is the same complaint that painting,
roofing, and driveway contractors have about any "Joe" slapping a hand-drawn
sign on the side of his '82 pickup and calling himself a painter.

The question is, "are we really trying to protect the buyer by
creating closed-door policies, or are we mainly trying to protect ourselves
by shutting the door behind us?" If committee-drafted standards,
certificates, and apprenticeships serve a protectionist function, then (this
in tongue-in-cheek) why not discourage the universities from improving and
promoting Technical Writing programs. With the flow of new writers into the
field lessened, those already in become more of a commodity (thus, insuring
professional-level raises).

> Whenever I hear tech comm'ers bemoaning the low esteem in which we're
> often
> held, I have to wince. We as a profession have done nothing to change
> that.
> Oh, we've worked a little out here and there, the "light a single candle"
> approach. But we've done nothing in concert to make ourselves look like
> professionals to other professionals. We've shrunk back from defining core
> competencies, for example.
Herein may lie a great distinction. That is, we may be
professionals but not a true profession. Professional in that it usually
takes some type of formal training to advance and grow in the profession.
That training can be college, experience, and a combination of the two.

Most other professions seem to have a commonality that we don't.
Most every Doctor has medical training, most every Lawyer has legal
training, and most every Electrical Engineer has some training in electrical
circuitry and theory. However, what does most every Technical Writer have?
Journalism, language studies, programming, business, policy writing, medical
writing, geography, mechanics, music, etc.. ? IMO, we are not in concert
because we are not an orchestra. Instead, we are studio musicians (still
professional but divergent to fit many styles and needs).

> Talk of certification sends many of us into apoplexy.
It makes me downright rabid! I despise unions and union mentality.
I also despise committees. The last thing I want is a committee of
"language arts" people telling me that after 15 years and three promotions,
that I don't meet their standards for writing a programmer's manual. I'm
sure that a writer with a language arts background does not want a committee
of "techno-weenies" setting standards either.

> We talk about solving this problem with degree programs, yet the
> vast majority of us continue to enter from outside of those boundaries.
> Electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, millwrights, and other skilled
> tradesmen serve recognized apprenticeships, while doctors, lawyers,
> engineers, and accountants must serve a specific number of years in
> academics to even qualify for testing into their professions. (Except for
> Arizona, where you don't need a law degree to be a lawyer.)
What problem? Respect and esteem are earned. No union, cartel, or
certificate is going to bestow them upon you.

> We, in the middle, have no credentials to mark us out, except for the
> beloved HR requirements of "English or equivalent degree, experience in
> PageMaker or other desktop publishing tool..." Many of us pretend to a
> rugged individualism that precludes anything as socialistic as a
> recognition
> system, but the majority of us actually work within corporations, which
> are
> constantly searching for better and faster ways to screen for superior
> employees.
Count me as one for "rugged individualism". I, for one, "wince" at
the thought of some committee setting standards for a job that I have
thrived at without following anyone committee's standards. I think because
this "profession (for lack of a better term)" is so dynamic because it draws
from individuals from such divergent backgrounds. I think that this drawing
brings in people who "think outside of the box". A rigid, structured
certification (man, it hurts to even type the word) forces a "thinking
within the box" mentality. In a field that needs creativity as much as
technique, why try to fit us with choke collars?

> Until some organization acts to establish a formal recognition of skills,
> and then popularizes that recognition, we'll always have horror stories of
> lousy documentation and brain-dead management of technical communicators.
> STC is the logical vehicle for such a program, but the issue has been so
> explosive within STC that proponents step lightly and even the best
> proposals for it are cautious and tentative.
The fact that it is so explosive within STC should be answer enough.
Imagine the reaction if they tried to foist "their" standards on the
technical writing community at large.

> Worse, we overlook the fact that the public at large believes that we've
> all
> been lobotomized before we're given a keyboard. Columnist Dave Berry
> advanced that a recent study revealed that fully 14% of Americans do not
> have English as a first language, and the majority of those write computer
> manuals.
Dave Barry also jokes about Doctors rushing surgery to make golf
dates, Lawyers chasing ambulances, Engineers designing inverted buildings,
and Plumbers using duct tape. Are you saying that a certificate will stop a
humor columnist from using sarcasm about people who write instructions and

> Our profession is possessed of research results and tools undreamt of just
> a
> few years ago. We now have what we need to provide even newbies with
> enough
> professionalism to awe the rest of the technology community. Yet we don't.
> I
> have to think that the ultimate source of all those low opinions of us
> aren't the fault of others, but of ourselves.
> Tim Altom
I agree that the much of the source of how we are viewed rest on our
own shoulders. But I don't agree that forming cartels, tests, and whining
for all to hear results in respect. You want respect, don't wave a piece of
paper in front of someone's nose, do a "bang-up" job.

Mike Wing

Michael Wing (mailto:mjwing -at- ingr -dot- com)
Staff Writer
Intergraph Corporation; Huntsville, Alabama

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