The Collision of English Students and The Workplace

Instapundit links to a piece from a book about higher education or something, and the author relates a story about a faculty member teaching a graduate level course on technical writing wherein the faculty member gets in trouble for having a potty mouth:

“I will no longer tolerate,” the chair writes in his letter to my friend, “what can only be described as your insensitive, vulgar, and obscene language in the classroom.”

The colleague’s intent in a graduate-level, academic tech writing class (i.e., not a vocational training workshop) is not just to teach students how to type memos, but rather to challenge students to consider how they know what they know as tech writers. This can be achieved while they expand their knowledge of their field, which exists right in the oily hinge, right in the fishy craw of the intersection of higher education and the corporation. Given the mess such a collision must be, he and I agree, some form of institutional critique is vital, and this sort of three-dimensional, reflexive analysis can, over time, only make students better tech writers. To know your context is to know your work.

Like many of his grad students, the complainant is his age, and already works as a tech writer. For much more than his salary.

Oh, give me a break. The “ends” of which academic types, particularly in soft sciences, of technical writing is to deliver correct and useful information to people who need it. Take it from a technical writer. Any time spent on institutional critique and three-dimensional, reflexive analysis is a waste of time unless you want to become a professor of technical writing somewhere since the whole expertise on Dickens’ view of male/female relationships isn’t working out.

You want to teach a technical writer something, teach him or her how to suss out information from the misanthropes on the development team, how to actually freaking open the software or somewhat understand the thing they’re writing about, and how to make a good business case that documentation isn’t a waste of time and saves money on help desk calls and whatnot. But teaching them how to approach their jobs as though they’re academics ain’t it.

Nor is teaching them that swearing is professional in any way shape or form. The tech industry already skews to younger people who have already developed the habit of f-bombing everything in sight to show their intensity and passion instead of, I don’t know, showing quiet competence. I hate to see that taught in the universities as good institutional technique.

2 thoughts on “The Collision of English Students and The Workplace

  1. “But teaching them how to approach they’re jobs as though they’re academics ain’t it.”

    And teaching them grammar might help, as well.

    ;-)

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