Amateurs don’t want to be beginners

Growing up, my son never wanted to start at the beginning. I guess it’s human nature. I mean who doesn’t want to start with dessert? My son’s desire wasn’t an issue until he wanted to participate in some new activity that required skill (think karate, piano, golf, etc.), and he still wanted to skip the beginning. With those kind of activities, the beginning is usually full of unfun stuff. And doing that stuff makes you a beginner.

When it comes to writing (or any other mode for communicating), the beginning is always the context, nicely represented as a rhetorical triangle. The video tutorial I’m working on for tomorrow focuses on one corner of the triangle, the writer’s purpose. I know most people will want to skip it to get to the “meatier” topics and avoid being a beginner. But the only way to predict a document’s success is by referring to the context. So I just HAVE to do this one. (And I can already promise you there will be one on audience, too.)

For those of you who don’t plan to skip the beginning, here’s a copy of the Email Job Update referred to in tomorrow’s tutorial. It was created by me based on an actual student’s response to an assignment from a 1999 textbook titled, Scenarios for Technical Communication, by Stone & Kynell. I’ve adapted it specifically to help amateurs think about purpose in workplace documents. A few details about the context of the document:

  • Writer: a project manager for a construction company
  • Readers: the company’s owner
  • Bottom line message: one project is over budget and behind schedule

Coming soon . . . I’ve decided I should add a page to collect all of the sample documents I mention. That will appear a later tonight.

Hope all of you fathers got to skip right to dessert today. (But if you want to become a more professional writer, don’t skip tomorrow’s tutorial!)

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One Comment

  1. Most people don’t like to be “beginners” at something, because it’s “face-threatening.” The potential for looking foolish is pretty great. The catch is that if you want to feel good about yourself, you have to accomplish something, which means you’ve got to do something difficult, which often means you have to learn something new, which means you’ve got to be a “beginner.”

    I started riding in my late 40’s. I rode my wife’s quarter horse, Blondie, up and down a dirt road for months trying to learn to canter without coming off. Then I took jumping lessons, which meant I was in classes with teenage girls and middle-aged housewives (and I was at the bottom of the heap). Eventually I learned to get around a cross-country course, but in the process i spent a lot of time with my face in the dirt. (Now I’m going through being a “beginner” at golf.)

    Here are some things I learned being a “beginner.”

    1. Don’t try to “skip” any steps. If you’re already an expert, you shouldn’t be here. Otherwise, present yourself as a “beginner,” who can use all the help you can get.

    2. Leave your ego at home. You’re going to go through a period where you look and feel foolish. Just accept it. (A lot of people can’t do this and they won’t last.)

    3. Don’t “explain” why you made a mistake. No one cares, least of all the instructor. Just shut up and try again.

    4. Don’t “judge” your peers when they mess up. You’re next. (If you get “judged,” laugh it off.)

    If you stick to these rules, people will go out of their way to help you. If not, they’ll sabotage you the first chance they get.

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