What is our value?

a.k.a Knowing when to stop

Hey, here’s a good reason for more technical writers to start blogging, it’ll cut down on the vast amounts of prose, rhetoric and general bile that seems to be clogging up some of the mailing lists to which I am subscribed.

Now, I’ve covered this topic before, but it seems my glib suggestion of “When X replies to a thread you can safely start deleting emails from it?” might actually be of use.

When I first came across such mailing lists I quickly learned just how many pedants and procrastinators our profession has, and whilst I’m keen to be grammatically correct there comes a point where the value of said conversations becomes zero.

As I’ve said before (and been shot down on before), when it comes to the very fine details of grammar the MAJORITY of readers will be unaware. As long as they get the information they require, and it reads well and contains no basic/obvious grammatical errors then so be it.

This is increasingly the case as more people come to view information as a quick fix (thanks internet!), so the amount of time spent agonising on how to punctuate that bulleted list is mostly lost on the reader as all they do is skim the list, get the bit of info they want and then sod off back to the thing they were trying to do.

Initially I wondered if this was an age thing, the younger whippersnappers (I include myself in here) coming into the profession with a differing viewpoint. Technical Writing is no longer the profession of English graduates with an engineering bent, with computer savvy new professionals coming along, fully aware of the internet and the knowledge that printed manuals are a dying example of our profession.

But I don’t think that’s truly the case, and I think the main reason TechWR-L suffers is because it lacks focus. Whilst a lot of hot air is spouted, most of it remains relevant, even if it seems off-topic. Don’t get me wrong whilst I won’t ever join the ranks of the grammerati, I do understand how important word order and phrasing to the reader.

So perhaps the main change that I see is the growing realisation that everything we do has a value, every small interaction we initiate during our working day has a value and, as I continue to understand more and more about this profession, the more I find assigning values to all my workday activities.

When I first found the technical communications mailing lists I was very keen and fairly active as, finally, I had direct access to my peers, I could communicate with people who did the same job and had the same problems, shared the same issues.

Today I find that I get more value from the shared knowledge offered by technical communications blogs, and the conversations that take place there. I’m not sure why there is such a distinct difference but I certainly sense that I get a much higher return on my investment by keeping up with industry blogs and journals than I do having to delete another off-topic thread on a mailing list.

After all, time is money!

(Ohh dear, did I really just say that? Am I really going to finish this post with such a cheesy Gordon Gecko phrase? Ohhh, apparently I am … )

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Long time blogger, Father of Jack, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense.

Doing my best to find a balance.

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Sam says:

I suspect that the (slightly) added effort involved in commenting on blog posts vs emailing mailing lists contributes to the blog post threads having more value.

alessandro says:

You should, of course, have written grammarati (sorry, couldn’t resist!) No, you’re right, most active mailing lists degenerate into arguments between people with large egos and too much time. The format is more suited for debate style tit-for-tat conversations. Blogs on the other hand seem to encourage more reasoned discussion. I find bloging to be a lot more demanding as medium of communication, particularly for the writer, but even for the readers and commentators.

Graham Campbell says:

Great post Gordon.

And of course that should be “I do understand how important word order and phrasing are to the reader.” but then I couldn’t resist either!

I’m still fairly new to the Tech Authoring business myself (2 years) and I’m very much a stickler for detail. I’m not sure if that’s due to my enthusiasm for my vocation, my inherent pedanticism or my relative inexperience but I quite often find myself worrying over the simplest little detail as you suggest.

I’ve recently found myself (again) to be the only docs resource in the organisation so this time round I think I’ll pay heed to the idea of knowing when to stop.

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