Defining technical communication as art, or craft, or science often boils down to philosophical debates, the kind you have first in university classes full of wide-eyed innocents, and later over beers at a favorite pub. Such debate may not seem to have much practical use, but in fact understanding how technical communicators view their profession can go a long way in determining how it will evolve, and where each of us fits in. We decided on this theme for October because an exercise in self-identification can be a good thing, and also as a great way to tie technical communication to our second annual Tech Writer Horror Stories event.
The question did start a fascinating discussion among the writers who contribute to TechWhirl, who we fondly refer to as the Special Writers Unit. On Monday, Yehoshua Paul distilled his thoughts into a formal position on why “Technical writing is NOT art.” Tomorrow, Wanda Phillips and Roger Renteria tackle the other side of the question.
Today, we ask you to weigh in. So our first stop in formulating this week’s poll was Wikipedia, which notes “The first and broadest sense of art is the one that has remained closest to the older Latin meaning, which roughly translates to “skill” or “craft.” But they also point out (using Encyclopedia Britannica as their source) that art often refers to visual arts.
Wikipedia defines science as “a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.” And finally, just for good measure, we looked up craft, which is defined as ” a profession that requires some particular kind of skilled work. In a historical sense, particularly as pertinent to the Middle Ages and earlier, the term is usually applied to people occupied in small-scale production of goods.”
Hmm… whether you choose Wikipedia as a starting place, or some more venerated reference, defining technical communication as art, science, or craft is not as easy as it might first appear. So think about it, take the poll, and if you’re ready, make your stand by posting a comment. Do you believe we work in a community of artists, scientists or craftspeople?