Oh for the love of…

By on 4-18-2007 in Technical Writing

Oh for the love of…

The topic that wouldn’t die – Fred Sampson’s Radio Blog

*heavy sigh*

Topic that wouldn’t die, indeed….more like, it’s the gross misunderstanding that refuses to die.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Misinterpretation is way more sexy, after all. But here’s the thing:

There are tech writers in the world who so pride themselves on their mad wordsmithing skillz that they can barely tolerate a bare hint of word misusage, by anyone. They get all twisted up like the Tasmanian Devil as they attempt to educate the offending speaker, often using the most condescending tone possible.

So, one might guess that tech writers in general are perhaps more mindful than the Average Joe of the words they use. But that guess would only be partially correct. One cannot be very mindful of words if one’s understanding of them is flawed.

And that’s what’s at the core of this “Is tech writing boring” conversation: a flawed understanding of words.

Yeah, the headline is sexy enough. It does a wonderful job of triggering the insecurity of those practitioners who are disposed to such feelings. And the conversation itself provides a fairly interesting examination of what individual practitioners get out of tech writing.

But it’s still a flawed conversation because it doesn’t discuss the real issue, which is (for the last f***ing time):

Talking about technical writing is boring.

And if you’ve been around other tech writers for any length of time, you know how little room for misinterpretation there actually is. To be completely and utterly frank, talking with other tech writers about the profession of tech writing is like participating in a verbal Caucus Race. You talk about the same things, with no end in sight. Just endless arguments that go nowhere so bloody fast I get dizzy in seconds and have to go take a nap. We’re either kvetching up a Category 5 storm or we’re patting ourselves on the back for being user advocates and mastering Word’s programmed idiocy.

The leap made from this statement to “is tech writing boring” makes me shake my head and sigh. Why? Because it’s a leap too easily and too eagerly made by those in our profession. Saying “if talking about tech writing is boring, then tech writing must be boring” represents an error in reasoning. For being so picky about single words, too many tech writers are not nearly as picky about thinking. Really, the whole mess just underscores how pointless it can be to talk to tech writers about anything, much less tech writing.

But as they say, life is like that. Talking about my job may be boring as hell, but I suppose having to listen to the discussion is a small price to pay for actually getting to do it. And I do enjoy actually doing my job. I don’t do it because I have an underinflated sense of self. I don’t do it so I can have something to bitch about. I don’t do it so I can play with computer stuff (that’s a bonus). And I certainly don’t do it so I can come into daily contact with people who can’t be bothered to play nice on a project.

I’m a tech writer because I solve problems with words. It’s the best intersection I’ve been able to find for my creativity, my analytical abilities, my drive, my compulsion to learn, etc. And all those things which make me one of the coolest people on the planet to know, I can employ them every day when I go into work. I don’t have to leave any bit of myself behind when I walk in the door. I don’t have to pretend I’m something else just to keep money coming in.

So, yeah, talking about tech writing is boring. Because actually doing it is much more fun and a hell of a lot more productive.


  1. Jenny–wow, I managed to wake you from your non-blogging state, eh? Cool. . .

    I guess what I’ve learned from this episode, that I should have previously learned from reading email lists, is this: people will read their own interests or prejudices into just about anything, and respond to however they read it. So it must be more interesting to technical writers to talk about whether TW is boring than it is to talk about whether talking about TW is boring. So maybe they really *do* think TW is boring, and were trying to talk themselves out it. Or something. Or not.

    Anyway, I’m over it. And I’m glad to know that you’re still alive and kicking ass.


  2. Well said. Both of you!

    I’m on a tech writing mailing list and it still boggles me that some ‘discussions’ that seem simple enough, can drag on and on and on..

    I recently wrote a post that stated “Writing is not important” with the premise that technical knowledge is (in my experience) seen as more beneficial to some employers. I didn’t state so in the post but I was hinting that the ‘split’ between technical and writing was something like 50.1% and 49.9% but nooooo some people leapt all over it.

    Mind you I did deliberately choose the post title to try and generate some discussion (mine is a new blog and I’m still building traffic).

    What Fred says is true, people will read their own interests and prejudices into anything.