Technical Writing As Literature

As Technical Communicators, we find ourselves judging our work on a day to day basis. Its clarity, accuracy, and "friendliness" are typical concerns for the conscientious technical communicator. Beyond that, we judge the usability of our writing - just how easy is it to use, and how valuable?

We talk about "Technical Literature, and the question arises as to whether it should actually be regarded as a real form of "literature" - and whether it should be subject to literary criticism, in much the same way as a play or a novel. This may seem bizarre, but stop and consider, for a moment, the utility of such an approach.

We may, for example, find that some writers have a direct, simple, "Hemingway" style of writing - while others write in longer, more involved, sentences and paragraphs that reminds us of Proust. The typical response is that the "Hemingway" style is the "correct" one for technical literature. But is it always? Doesn't it depend on the subject matter, the intended use of the book, as well as the skill of the writer? A well constructed Proustian User's manual intended for advanced users, may satisfy much more than a short, laconic Hemingway approach. This is not to say that unnecessary words, or long, clumsy sentences, are good - but not every long sentence is clumsy, and not every 40 word sentence is filled with unnecessary words. A passage can be dense with words and long sentences, and yet convey meaning in a way that engages the reader, and provides a more satisfying experience than a stripped down, laconic guide.

Writing, above all, must "engage" the reader. To engage readers is not the same thing as simply conveying information. To engage readers is to give them something meaningful, which is to say, to give them something that has value within the context of their lives. When we speak of meaningfulness with regard to technical literature, we refer to the value that something has for the professional concerns of the reader. Just plunking down information is often not enough - it is the minimum measure of meaningfulness, but certainly not the full measure.

Educator and sociologist Dr. Mati Schwrarcz has been training English speakers as technical writers and marcom specialists for over 17 years. Since then his graduates have become leading writers in hi-tech companies throughout the world.


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