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Technical Writer, you’re a poet and didn’t know it.

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early poetI’ve been reading a lot lately about authorship and poets. Now, before you click away because you don’t consider yourself a poet, read on. This applies to you, too.

Much of the text around authorship that I’ve been reading has centered on the poet as author, and so, I’ll admit, I dismissed most of it. But, here’s where it piqued my interest (as someone who considers herself anything but a poet) and where it might yours, too.

I read that Stéphane Mallarmé, the French poet and critic—seriously, stay with me, this will come back to you, I promise—said, “…language…[in the hands of poets]…reaches its full potential”. Now, think about what you do as a technical writer. Exactly. You allow languages—words—to reach their full potential.

Technical writers, at least in my opinion, view themselves as different creatures than creative writers. Even those technical writers who write creatively on the side, see those two selves as separate from each other—a switch they turn off and on. When I think of poet, I certainly don’t picture a technical writer hammering away at a training module or software manual. Yet, we technical writers and our poetic counterparts are really working words for the same goal—to create a pleasant user experience by allowing words to reach their full potential. To really create a text that works in either field is an art. Anyone can throw words on a page, but poets (whether creative or technical) choose those words and their organization in a unique way.

Writers place words together very selectively, carefully, rhetorically, because when we step away from the text, and it is out of our control, the words need to be what carry the reader through to the end. In the short space we have to work with, words have to reach this “full potential” for the document to really be effective. Poem, stanza, page, module, whatever the medium or length, the words and language are where it all starts and ends.

So, technical writers, before we dismiss ourselves from the ranks of the great creatives before us, stop and think about what we’re really doing and realize we, too, are great poets.

Source: Mallarmé, Stéphane. From ‘Crisis in Verse’. In  S. Burke  (Ed.), Authorship: From Plato to the Postmodern. (51-53). Edinburgh: Edinburgh U. Press.


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