Monday, August 09, 2010

In defense of my [pejorative] self

Some descriptions seem to carry negative baggage and get thrown at me from time to time. The only problem is that not only do I find these terms NOT pejorative, in fact, I have worked hard to earn them.

One is "writer." I remember sitting in a meeting and having someone voice her concern that several people in the room had referred to themselves as "technical writers." (I was one.) I know the history of this. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has a rather outdated definition for technical writer. This person was advocating the title "technical communicator" to differentiate what we do from this outdated definition.

I grew up wanting to be a writer. When asked what I would most like to be, I never answered "a communicator." I think that the role technical writer is a legitimate subset of the profession known as technical communication. Technical writers focus on communicating with words. The problem with the BLS definition was not the term "writer," they just seriously understated what goes into technical writing.

I don't want to undermine a campaign to get technical writers more respect and more pay; I just don't want to have to apologize for what I do, and in fact am pleased to do, i.e., being a technical writer. Sometimes I'm something else; in my current job, for example, I am a user experience architect, another role in the field of technical communication. But when I take on the task of writing user assistance, I'm OK telling folks I'm a technical writer.

Another pejorative is "academic." In its negative sense, it means "irrelevant to real world applicability." In its positive sense, it can mean well studied in the research that has been done in a field and capable of generating valid, reliable knowledge by conducting original research.

I've worked real hard to try to qualify for that latter meaning, so I chafe a little when my desire to apply rigor is branded "academic" and meant to imply "irrelevant."

BTW, I'm sometimes branded pedantic--and that one I deserve and should try to be less of.

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