"Clean Specs"

W. Eliot Kimber eliot at dns.isogen.com
Sun Feb 7 23:40:13 GMT 1999

At 09:31 AM 2/8/99 +1000, James Robertson wrote:

>The XML WG wouldn't think of seriously discussing say, OS filesystem 
>design. I would ask why they think they have the
>skills and qualifications to write a large and complex technical
>document, so that it makes sense?
>The specification document is read by the whole world, and is essentially
>the only medium that the WG uses to communicate its ideas
>widely. So it's a document worth doing properly, not something that
>should be written by technical specialists and amateur authors.

The XML WG was an all-volunteer project, as are most standards efforts.
Those of us who participated did so primarily as a personal commitment, not
as something our employers (those of us who have them) pay us to do.  

Standards development is not a commercial process--there is no budget from
which technical writers might be hired.  The W3C only administers, it does
not fund. Same for ISO. Some national bodies do fund some standards
development (BSI, the British Standards Institute), but that funding will
tend to be used to support the technologists developing the standard and
not writers crafting the words.

So while it's true that most, if not all, specifications could benefit from
professional writers, it usually isn't an option for standards developers.

About the most you can hope for is editors who are literate and capable. In
the case of Tim and Michael, I think we got about as much literateness and
capability as we could want.

Note too that writing good standards is a very specialized art--it's very
close to writing legal documents. Not all technical writers are skilled at
it, even if they are good at other forms of technical writing.


<Address HyTime=bibloc>
W. Eliot Kimber, Senior Consulting SGML Engineer
ISOGEN International Corp.
2200 N. Lamar St., Suite 230, Dallas, TX 75202.  214.953.0004

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