Tech writers vs. Engineers

Subject: Tech writers vs. Engineers
From: James Hom <jhom -at- CISCO -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 27 Apr 1995 19:11:34 -0700

Well, it's finally time to decloak and join this thread with yet another
personal opinion:

I received degrees in Industrial Engineering and English, and my masters
degree will be in Industrial Engineering. So, I guess I'm an engineer.

But, I've been a tech writer ever since I got my bachelor's degrees. I
like to write. I write for fun outside of work. So, I guess I'm a writer.

I think we do (or at least try to do) things that we're "into." I enjoyed
tracking down the cause of defects in the plating line when I worked as a
process engineer. I enjoy writing for a living much, much more, though.

To me, it's not just my desire to do the job that makes me want to do tech
writing--it's the pleasure I derive from knowing that my user got the point
I was trying to make. Increasing the yield of the plating line by some
statistically significant percentage wasn't the same.

It's like teaching, in that respect. All you ex-teachers out there--did
you do it for the money?

I 'd get a lot more respect if I was still doing process engineering,
though. My favorite engineering professor, a guy who holds several patents
for pump designs, once said to me, "You're not going to stay _just_ a
technical writer, are you?" I'd get funny looks bringing my fracture
mechanics texts to my Shakespeare class. And, in the nerd building, people
would see my dog-eared copies of Virgil or Faulkner and say, "Huh?"

In the words of Rodney King, can't we all just get along?

Here's a contrarian view, though:

At two of the companies I've worked for, we've looked into modularizing
information into chunks, using Information Mapping as a base method, and
extending those categories of information to suit our needs. Manual
production, then, would be little more than sucking the right "chunks" out
of a database, in the right order, to compose the chapters or topics for
online help.

Writing in this environment would be very structured. We'd require the use
of a limited vocabulary to suit a given reading level and facilitate
internationalization. Each chunk would be small, no more than a few lines.
Each type of "chunk" would be rigidly defined in terms of the verbiage it
would contain: Procedural chunks would always start with "To do blah blah,
perform the following steps," etc.

This sort of writing would be fairly mechanical, and would be rather easy
to teach to a junior writer, or, (heaven forbid!) an engineer.


James Hom Voice: 408-526-8956
cisco Systems Email: jhom -at- cisco -dot- com

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