Dont rite so gud? Don’t let that stop you

Eye no that a Lot of ppl dont Right to gud. That shudnt keep ppl frum Riteing. Lot’s of ppl dont Right gud.

Did you have trouble reading that paragraph above? I actually had trouble writing it. The late Harry Chapin had a song called Six String Orchestra in which he intentionally plays badly. I once said that if you’re an accomplished musician, one of the most difficult things to do is to intentionally play something badly. If you’re a writer, I suppose the same is true for intentionally writing something badly. I remember reading a novel, Flowers for Algernon, in which a mentally-retarded man, writing in the first person, increases his intelligence after an operation. It was interesting reading the account as his intelligence and his awareness increased, and I can only imagine as to how challenging it might have been to write.

Anyway, in my technical writing presentation, one of the points I try to make is that not being able to write well should not discourage people from contributing to documentation.

I’m the first to admit that I’m a grammar snob. I’ll often be that person who is “silently correcting your grammar.” I cringe anytime someone doesn’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re.” I have to hide my eyes anytime someone uses an apostrophe-S as a plural. And I still believe that anyone who says “irregardless” should be flogged.

That said, I understand that not everyone is a good writer. Just because someone does not write well doesn’t mean that person should be discouraged from writing.

For one thing, as I said before, everyone has to start somewhere. Someone once said that “one of the dumbest quotes ever coined is ‘do it right the first time.’ It’s almost NEVER done right the first time.” And the one sure-fire method to improve is to practice. The more you write, the better you’ll get.

If I had to offer a piece of advice to someone who wanted to get better at writing, I’d suggest reading material by your favorite author, then try emulating that author’s style. For example, a few of my favorite authors include Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and Terry Brooks. I enjoy their books and their writing style. After reading their works, I found myself wanting to emulate how they write. I discovered that, over time, my writing kept getting better.

For another thing, an inability to write well doesn’t mean a person lacks intelligence or knowledge in a subject. That person often contributes to documentation as a subject-matter expert (SME). An SME has a great deal to contribute, but knowledge transfer can be challenging. To be fair, this is not an easy thing to do; one of the most difficult tasks is to communicate knowledge to other people. (I even have an entire presentation about this.) People often have valuable information to contribute; the challenge lies in how to convey that information. If someone with information doesn’t write well, that shouldn’t stop him or her from doing so.

Granted, if a piece of writing needs to convey a “good face” (say, client documentation or marketing materials, for example), then it’s important for it to be well-written. But if it’s a mere matter of knowledge transfer, it’s more important that a concept is written down rather than not be written at all. If an idea needs to be cleaned up, go ahead and write it down, and let someone else do the grammatical heavy-lifting. Not being a good writer should not be an impediment to writing at all.


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