After many years of blogging, and consistent with my desire to move toward retirement, we have ended the Insights blog. Thanks to Doug Bedell for his years of blog support.

Western Mentors Instilled Technical Writing in China

Posted on December 22, 2014
Filed Under Communication, Education, Technology, The Writing Life | Leave a Comment


Here’s a remarkable discovery on our part, illustrating anew how cooperative and interrelated our world can be if we let it. Bet you thought China somehow picked up its technical expertise on its own, enabling it to run rings around the U.S., in some respects, unassisted. Well, that’s not really so. No more than it was when W. Edwards Deming made his first trip to Japan in 1947 and started a quality transfer process there that initiated “Japan’s economic miracle”.

We’re learning from a post by Shannon Li on the Sigma Technology site that international contacts and cooperation have evidently been as important to China for technical communication as Deming-initiated quality awareness was for the Japanese. In 1997 a team of 12 technical communicators from the U.S. and Canada headed by Sam Dragga from Texas Tech University visited China and found it “hungry for technical communication education.”

“With no profession and independent academic discipline here,” Li writes from Beijing, “China was hungry for technical communication education. At that time, the English department trained translators, interpreters and tour guides for business and government organizations. Although there were courses like professional English and English for science and technology, the focus was on professional vocabularies and terms instead of on technical writing.”

So, by gosh, a group of 50 English teachers from colleges and high schools in Jiangsu Province attended lectures by the U.S./Canadian team and prepared six-day courses from them that included topics “like technical communication history, cross cultural communication in technical writing, audience, document design, types of technical writing, etc.” Between the lecturers and their Chinese students, technical writing began taking root in China.
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Note-taking as a Productivity Prod

Posted on December 9, 2014
Filed Under Business, Communication, Technology, The Writing Life | Leave a Comment

imgresTaking notes isn’t simply scrawling a snapshot of what you’ve read so that you can recall the details later on. Technical writers, especially, should be mindful that note-taking can be a memory jog for inspiration itself – that is, it has a wider function than just “recalling”. It can be a prod for creative advances.

We are reminded of the creativity-prompting potential of note-taking via an edutopia post by T.R. Girill, of the Society for Technical Communication at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

There were, of course, as Girill observes, the field notes of Henry David Thoreau “on the flowering times of 500 plants near Concord, MA (that) are still used today for comparison with current climate-change data.” But, as he continues, most notes “are used by an audience of one”: yourself. Yet they can extend your reach widely.

Thus, Girill cites Eric Green’s chapter (Ch. 12) in Michael R. Canfield’s book, “Field Notes on Science and Nature” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011) in urging science students – we’d add practitioners, too – to extend the scope of their note-taking “beyond just observations or numerical data” to include such utilitarian matters as:

“• Memory aids, about places, times and conditions that could be helpful later but will be forgotten if not captured now.
“• Organizational Aids, cross references and page indexes (easiest if the notebook pages are numbered), especially for long projects.
“• Commentary – any remarks that could generate new ideas or improvements on old ideas.”

Writers and reporters have been mindful of the memory-prodding value of notes for ages. Thus the piles of notebooks and other materials that you’re apt to find in the vicinity of newspaper reporters and writers, or at least were, before the acquisition of digital data became so prominent. (We remember the table behind the desk of one reporter at the old Philadelphia Bulletin that was piled so high with notebooks and other source materials that it nearly triggered a newsroom pool as to when it might topple over.)

Girill’s post includes further prompting on memory-jogging techniques stemming from good note-taking. We’d simply restate what should by now be obvious – that the more you earnestly record, the more you’re likely to usefully recall at some especially auspicious point later on. Note-taking is well worth the time involved in jotting informative encounters amply down. – Doug Bedell

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