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Dear Viv
Published
2003, Q3 (June 24, 2013)

Advice for the Discerning Technical Communicator


Editor's Note: At times, we technical communicators could benefit from good advice. What's my next career move? Is there any future in being a certified DRDOS expert? Should I take that Cobol course? Is it important to learn how to write before becoming a technical writer? Newspapers abound with advice columns, but none of them address questions like these. Not to worry. "Viv" is here to answer whatever tough questions you have. Please send your questions to dear_viv at yahoo dot com, and be prepared for good advice.


Dear Viv,

I use FrameMaker 7.0, but my girlfriend uses Word. How do I break the news to my mom?

Signed, Anxious

Dear Anxious,

You sound like a man of principle.
I like that, so I won't mince words. Ditch the girlfriend. If she doesn't have the chachkis to persuade her boss to switch to Frame, she's not worth upsetting your mother over. Find a real woman.



Dear Viv,

I'm a technical writer for a software company, but I hate computers, think that programming is duller than ditch water, and that programmers are nerds.
Should I consider a career change?

Signed, Perplexed

Dear Perplexed,
I've heard of your kindposing as a technical writer for the beefy paycheck. It's understandable. Plenty of people pose as actors (think Keanu Reeves) and, for their courage, reap the benefits. But your Ludditian mindset will eventually leak its way onto the page. You'll tell readers they can do A or B, it just doesn't matter. You'll leave out the fact that, if they choose B, complete paralysis is a distinct possibility. Perplexed, typically I have little regard for readers (except for you, of course), but you must do something now before readers are truly harmed.

I suggest taking the next step — become a documentation manager! Then you'll only have to manage documentation schedules. You won't have to evaluate your minions' writing or technical skills, and you'll no longer need those skills yourself. Best of all, you'll earn 40% more for doing 50% less.



Dear Viv,

Does "i" come before "e", except after "c"? Isn't there some exception to this rule? It seems so inflexible!

Signed, Curious

Dear Curious,

Grammar rules often seem arbitrary. Why just the other day, I argued with a friend over the phrase "couple of." I've heard more people say "I need a couple things from the store" than "I need a couple *of* things from the store." I insisted that the preposition before things" is assumed and therefore superfluous. He asserted that bending and even ignoring grammar rules could lead to the destruction of our civilization. After all, look at Pompeii, he said.

To make a long answer short, you're correct. Why not c after i except after e? I'm curious, Curious, what you'll come up with.




Dear Viv,

I think in serif, but dream in sans serif. Should I go into therapy?

Signed, Literal

Dear Literal,
Run, don't walk to your nearest mental health facility. (Don't forget your insurance card.) Everyone knows that humans dream in pictures, not typeface. It's very possible that you're the reincarnation of Gutenberg.




Dear Viv,

My boss doesn't know how to spell. Should I leave a dictionary on his desk, or is that too obvious?

Signed, Apprehensive

Dear Apprehensive,
Even geniuses are often atrocious spellers, so give your boss a break. He may well be a budding genius. Watch for signs of unkempt hair and disregard for corporate rules.




Dear Viv,

I split infinitives all the time. Should I give up my dream of becoming an editor?

Signed, to boldly go

Dear to boldly go,
I admire your honesty and willingness to discuss grammatical disorders in a public forum. If you read my letter to Curious, you know that I believe grammatical rules were meant to be broken. Tell me, which sounds better:

grammatically incorrect Star Trek
To boldly go where no
man has gone before...

grammatically correct
To go boldly where no man
has gone before...


It's from Star Trek, it's gotta be okay. Don't worry about it, and go for the job as editor!





Dear Viv,

What's the best wine to go with FrameMaker 7? A red or a white? An insouciant Shiraz or an okay Zinfandel? Should I serve some kind of chocolate dish as a dessert?

Signed, Planning a dinner party

Dear planning a dinner party,
Forget the wine and go straight to the scotch. Life is short, why waste time? End of article.


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