Pilot to F-Bombardier

From Inside Higher Education, a sad tale of what passes for technical writing instruction in the university:

“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.

Leaving aside the useful things that technical writers should learn instead, such as how to freakin’ open the software they’re documenting (true story, and anecdotal but typical in my experience: after I moved from tech writing to QA, I went back to the technical writing department to answer a question my replacement had with the doc covering a particular screen and couple of controls. I looked at it and couldn’t remember what it meant, so I said, “Let’s open it up,” referring to the application she was documenting. “Open it up?” she asked. “The serials module,” I said. She didn’t have it installed and was writing the manual on it without actually, you know, having seen it in person).

But aside from my riffs on technical writing, it brings to mind a good question: when is it okay to swear at work if you’re QA?

Some of you, perhaps reflecting on the somewhat, erm, challenging tone of this Web log might think I spend most of my working hours in critiquing institutionally like a sailor. However, that is not the case. I mean, contemporary psychology of the younger generations (can you believe there are people actually working who don’t get Pink Floyd, Doctor Who, or Top Gun allusions?) and basic deformalization of the workplace has made it an environment where it’s not just the old boys occasionally letting go a curse or a swear word. At one of my previous postings, the most foul-mouthed amongst the crew was a young woman who barraged every meeting with the f-bomb.

Brothers and sisters of QA, we are not impassioned barbarians at the gates, lobbing dead animals over the walls. We’re cold, cool professionals working efficiently to deflate the overheated rhetoric and lofty marketing-as-project-planning speak with cold hard facts and failed tests. You’re not going to add an edge to your presentation with potty language. You’re just going to make yourself sound like a twit. Perhaps a contemporaneous twit, a twit among peer twits, but you’re not adding authenticity to your speech.

Besides, you have access to the dirtiest word in IT: NO. Use that, and you’ll shock enough people and ruin enough days without references to bodily by-products.

(Link seen on Instapundit.)

P.S., just for discussion purposes, the best Doctor of all: Colin Baker, #6. If you think differently, you don’t belong in QA.

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