Re: Are best practices standards?

Subject: Re: Are best practices standards?
From: "Sharon Burton-Hardin" <sharonburton -at- earthlink -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1999 09:41:40 -0700

On this one, Andrew, I may have to disagree with you somewhat.

I am not entirely sure that tech writing is best thought of as a creative
endeavor. While there is certainly a lot of creativity involved, it is also
a structured process that often is not creative. We do not (god, I hope!)
make up a lot of what we do every time we do it. There are defined
structures to what we do and they should be there. They are important. For
example, we would have fits if the writer decided to be really creative and
start with the advanced information at the front of the book and print the
7x9 inch portrait book so that the words were actually landscape on the
right and portrait on the left. I am making this up but get the drift of
what I am saying, here. We don't change font or color every 4 words because
4 is the square root of 2 and we want to be creative with squares in this

I have just known too many writers who couldn't be bothered with the style
guide or knowing about usability stuff because it interrupted their creative
process. And generally what they turned out was crap that no one should have
paid for. We have processes and generally accepted ways of doing things
because that much at least is decided and agreed upon, both by us and our
users. Frequently, whether we are aware of it or not. Now many of the
trivial details are in dispute (by us - our readers don't really care,
generally) but the general guidelines are not. Part of the agreement with
our readers.

In a truly creative endeavor, we would all be trying to think outside the
lines all the time to push the edges and see what happened. We (at least
regularly employed tech writers) don't do that. They actually have general
processes they use, whether formal or informal, to accomplish the goal - a
manual in the most cost-effective manner possible.

My thoughts. Not truth, just thoughts.


Sharon Burton-Hardin
President of the Inland Empire chapter of the STC
Anthrobytes Consulting
Check out!

----- Original Message -----
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Cc: <bbatorsk -at- admin -dot- nj -dot- devry -dot- edu>
Sent: Tuesday, 26 October, 1999 7:40 AM
Subject: Re: Are best practices standards?

| > It is not a way to fix
| > standards, but a way to test them, to institute a process of creativity
| > documentation management. Management should not be a way to stifle
| > creative writing, but it sometimes is--witness the horror stories, real
| > "Platonic," that are recounted here. Management is the issue Hackos
| > addresses, it seems to me. Her work is an attempt to institute
| > in the management of a creative process. The result sought is an
| > such as you describe, Susan: "best practices" get spread or, when the
| > practice" becomes ineffective, changed. The creative technical writer
| > (redundancy here: all writing is creative) is empowered not paralyzed.
| Apart from the obvious cracks at my name, I think this whole argument has
| serious and fundamental flaw.
| Creativity cannot be serialized.
| "Institute creativity" what is that? It sounds like you went out and
| the "creativity" module for your android and you need Geordi to install
| Wow.
| It seems to me that if you want a creative environment it needs to be
free. As
| any half-decent artist will attest, creation comes from inspiration and
| work - not from a really swell looking methodology. I am not an art
| but I am 99% certain that the masters of art and science who changed human
| perception of the universe did not write up an exquisite analysis process
| before they went to work.
| Therefore, the whole notion that your can institute a "creative process"
| like the Clockwork Orange. It can't be. By the very nature of a process
| have removed free will. By mandating behaviors and practices and
| ways to measure the outcome of those processing you have effectively
| out creativity.
| Now, some people find these restricted environments more productive. But
| not confuse productivity (the ability to get work done) and creativity
| ability to invent new things). Environments with extensive, well measured
| processes may be very productive. And within the confines of that box
| might be some isolated innovation. However, I feel it is an injustice to
| artists who must build their universe and struggle to recreate it every
day to
| place the standards and processes of technical writing on the same level.
| Processes and standards make environments more productive - yes. But that
| not mean they are more creative. In many ways, the more processes there
| the less creativity you allow since the mere nature of a process weeds out
| anything that does not lead to increased productivity - and creation is
| very unproductive.
| As I have said before, you cannot plan for genius. It just happens.
| not even once, in the history of humans has ingenuity been planned out in
| advance.
| Lastly, not all writing is creative. Merely following a process and then
| publishing the results does not imply creativity. Computers read data and
| format that data into reports. Do we call this a creative process?
| because a human is involved and may exercise some control over the
| process does not make that process creative.
| So let's stop fooling ourselves here. I know that some people want to
| that all these processes and standards make their jobs have more meaning.
| reality, they merely make your job more predictable. Don't sugar coat
| things and make them into something they are not. If you want real, true
| creativity you have to suffer with the confusion and waste that comes with
| human minds struggling to force some sense out of the chaos.
| Andrew Plato
| =====
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