[Academic-discuss] new to Academic SIG - question

Pam Estes Brewer brewer_pe at mercer.edu
Mon Jul 16 16:34:35 UTC 2018


Tom and Michael make excellent points, and I agree.

As to your organizational problem particularly:  you must have buy-in for your position and mission from someone or you wouldn’t be there.  I suggest you talk with those people about their goals for you within this structure and get their buy-in for you to do two things.  1. Educate your teams on why this type of writing is important and implement a style guide that writers must follow so that they submit material that meets some basics.  This will require the writers to gain some level of understanding and proficiency for producing a higher-quality, audience-focused product, and, hopefully, you will become their mentor rather than their custodian.


Beth Agnew, SIG manager, can answer your SIG questions, but we are out here.

From: academic-discuss-bounces at mailer.stc.org [mailto:academic-discuss-bounces at mailer.stc.org] On Behalf Of Thomas Barker via Academic-discuss
Sent: Sunday, July 15, 2018 6:48 PM
To: FineLines <fine-lines at sbcglobal.net>; Academic SIG discussion list <academic-discuss at mailer.stc.org>
Subject: Re: [Academic-discuss] new to Academic SIG - question

My guess, Paula, is that you're experiencing writing for different purposes.  Academic writing for publication in scholarly journals is necessarily self-reflexive and conscious of precision in diction, and creating  and supporting academic arguments.  It's points are made though repetition and explication of ideas.  Instructional writing (using commands and direct address) often sounds much more conversational and natural.  Articles, especially those that support tasks) tend to be conversational and engaging, like marketing or promotional writing.  Well written scholarly articles are not in that style because the writers are in an academic rut.

I hope this helps.


On Sun, Jul 15, 2018 at 12:48 PM, FineLines via Academic-discuss <academic-discuss at mailer.stc.org<mailto:academic-discuss at mailer.stc.org>> wrote:
Hello academic types!  I am definitely not “one of you”…

that is, I’ve never trained for nor worked in education, until three years ago when I took a job as Sr. Editor (Programs) with Project Lead The Way (pltw.org<http://pltw.org>). We produce curriculum for pre-K through 12 in the STEM subjects, specifically Engineering, Computer Science, and Biomedical Science. I’m the first real, professional editor to look at their content, which previously got only copyedit from a contractor if anything. Astonishing, right? Hm, maybe I shouldn’t have identified my company…

While a large part of editing is editing, regardless of the subject matter, I came up against a mindset that’s foreign to me. (My experience is largely in user doc for software.) And I often sense an attitude that conveys, “You’re not one of us. You don’t need to know xxx.”

I have always contended that the editor is not a commodity whose services get tacked on at the end. The editor should be part of the content writing/development team and have the opportunity to give input throughout the process. The editor (or this editor) has certain expertise and can add value that no one else can. At least that’s the way I was trained. I’ve made little headway in getting this point across to anyone and am almost resigned to the fact that this is how I’m going to spend the rest of my career – being undervalued, not considered a part of the team, with my “arguments” unabsorbed.

OK, you can respond to that part if you like, but my real question for you is this:  Why do academics/educators insist on writing—regardless of audience demographics—in the same style they were required to write for their dissertations and the like?  I get that you were trained to write that way through the course of your training (actually we all were, those of us who are around my age), but why is there such a disconnect when it comes to writing something instructional to teachers and students?

Have the ideas of “people first”, active voice, “less (words) is more”, and “plain or universal English” just not pierced your professional ranks? These “tenets” have long been part of technical writing best practices.  So I struggle with how we seem to be so far apart from each other in writing style for a lay audience.  The academics I’m talking about are those I work with (don’t mean to point the finger at anyone here), but I’m hoping you can give me a little insight into why this is the case.  Granted, none of my colleagues were trained to write using the best practices of tech com, rather they probably didn’t get any training in how to write (except by example)!

When I came on board, I quickly noticed the stiff, wordy, formal language and have been rewriting it ever since. I’ve created numerous job aids—some requested, but most at my own initiative—to help steer the writers, but I see little evidence that anybody even refers to these resources.  I can’t make the horse drink.  Can you tell I’m really discouraged?  I believe they think of me as the “fixer” and if subconsciously, make no effort to change their behavior because I’ll suggest all those types of changes.  (There’s always the excuse that timelines are too tight, which is the fault of management…)  Sorry I’ve gotten off on a tangent.

So back to my main question, do you have any idea why education has not really adopted the best practices of tech com?? (although it’s in the Standards for the students to learn!)

Thanks for listening.  Maybe we can stir up some discussion, as I’ve heard nothing from or about this SIG since I joined.  How many members are there?  Is this SIG in danger of being shut down?

Feeling defeated,

Paula Robertson, STC Associate Fellow
dba FineLines
Technical Editor, Writer, Designer

You have no idea what it's like to be a "just between you and me" person in a "just between you and I" world.
– William Haefeli, The New Yorker 8/30/2010

Academic-discuss mailing list
Academic-discuss at mailer.stc.org<mailto:Academic-discuss at mailer.stc.org>

Thomas Barker, Professor
Communications and Technology Graduate Program,
   Faculty of Extension
Writing Studies Program, Faculty of Arts
University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB Canada
Email: ttbarker at ualberta.ca<mailto:ttbarker at ualberta.ca>
Website: https://sites.google.com/a/ualberta.ca/barker/
Principal Investigator, Healthy Workplaces for Helping Professions<http://hwhp.ca> Project
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