Re: Grammar vs. content

Subject: Re: Grammar vs. content
From: Emily Skarzenski <71220 -dot- 341 -at- COMPUSERVE -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 27 Jan 1995 10:12:48 EST

> Grammar is very subjective, it is often a personal thing, and it
> detracts from the real objective of a document. All documents must
> communicate needed information -- not grammatically correct fluff.
> Are my peers Technical ReWriters who only correct grammar?

I don't think most technical writers are "ReWriters who only correct grammar."
It's true that some of them are. Part of the reason they can get away with this
is that technical writing, as a profession, is not very well delineated -- lots
of people who call themselves "technical writers" aren't involved in jobs where
technical knowledge or expertise is required.

Another cause of the problem lies with some college-level technical writing
curriculums. Having graduated with a BA in English/Technical Writing myself, I
know that it's possible to earn that degree without having to take 400-level
courses in anything but English. I believe tech writing students should be
required to minor in a subject other than English -- or at least take an
in-depth sequence in another course of study -- so that they graduate with a
technical "specialty." I chose to take this step on my own, and I know how
valuable it was.

However, the idea that "Grammar is very subjective, it is often a personal
thing" is false. Grammar can be classified as correct or incorrect. Perhaps you
meant that *usage* is subjective, which is closer to the truth. Usage is made
more objective when a writer (or group of writers) adopts a style guide, such as
the Chicago Manual of Style (now at the 14th edition), and uses that guide as a
usage standard. Of course, there are always situations that fall between the
cracks or that should legitimately be treated uniquely for a given communication

Moreover, correct grammar and good usage are important to technical writing. No
matter how well a writer understands a technical subject, if he/she can't
express it clearly, their communication is a lost cause. In fact, in contrast to
your complaint, I believe I more often run into technical writers whose work is
technically sound but whose writing is poor. And I can't understand why this is
the case -- it's not that difficult to pick up a grammar textbook and learn
correct grammar, or to purchase a common style guide and use it religiously. I
would say that it's easier to acquire proficiency with the mechanics of the
English language than to acquire expertise in a technical field.

Whew. Long message. Now I just have to climb down off my soapbox! :)

Emily Skarzenski

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