Writing question

Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Thu Nov 11 22:04:45 UTC 1999

Amy Speed wrote:

>P.S. Some tech writers are computer science graduates, rather than >English graduates. Without trying to step on anyone's toes, a company >will usually benefit more with an English expert than a computer expert >as a tech writer. Are the reasons as obvious to you as they are to me?

Since I don't know which reasons you see as obvious, let me put one out
there for people to stomp on:

When computer experts write about computers, they tend to assume that
their audience shares their knowledge of computers.  They tend to
conclude that there is something wrong with the intelligence of anyone
who can't understand their technicalities, rather than providing
information the non-expert reader needs and lacks.  An English expert is
much more likely to consider the needs of the reader rather than the
technical but irrelevant implications of the computer problem as ding an

In my experience, almost every original equipment manual in the computer
world suffers from the same flaw.  When you're trying to solve a
problem, the manual is useful only ex post facto.   The only people who
can understand the manual are those who already know how to do what the
manual says it's trying to explain.  I thought that manuals would best
serve their purpose if a neophyte could understand them.  Unfortunately,
the only hope there is of understanding most manuals is through solving
problems by some means other than reference to the manual.

"RTFM" doesn't make sense when the one who wrote the manual can't write
in terms a newcomer can understand.

I wouldn't be happy if English majors with no training in computers
tried to create an operating system I would have to use on my computer.
Why should I be forced to accept the impenetrable muddles written by
computer geniuses with no knowledge of writing?

-- mike salovesh                    <salovesh at niu.edu>

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