Should Technical Writing Be Taught in High School? (Collaborative Post)
I received the following question from a graduate student doing research in technical writing:
Right now I am working on some research with some other students, trying to determine whether technical writing should begin to be integrated more in high school level English classes so that when students reach college they have experience with writing professionally, and not solely with creative writing. As an expert in the field, I am wondering what your feelings might be on this, having been a student of English yourself and now working for such a large organization as a technical writer? Do you feel that your education prepared you well to do the work you are involved in? Do you find that those hired to work with you received relevant skills in technical writing through their education, or largely as a result of work experience? Do you feel that there is a place for the teaching of technical writing in high schools? As a technical writer with a great deal of experience, do you have any ideas on how this might be best accomplished, given the current economic climate resulting in strained budgets in education?
Sure, I'm all for supporting courses in technical writing in high school. There are some potential issues that high school technical writing courses could create:
- If a high school student takes several technical writing courses in high school, will this become the new normal for background qualifications? (College no longer required, just a high school diploma with some tech writing courses.)
- Will the courses be the same drudgery that is often taught in college courses on technical writing? In departments that don't have anyone qualified to teach technical writing, these courses often require students to write a resume, outline a proposal, and describe how to make a peanut-butter-and-jam sandwich.
- Will these courses take students away from developing more critical analysis and literary skills? I'd rather have my teenager read Chaucer than try to write instructions for her iPod.
Although I would support a course in technical writing at the high school level, in my gut I kind of feel sorry for students in such a class. I think that when you're young, you should go out and play. You should read books, write creatively, and develop your ideals. Only when you move on to another stage of life, where reality, finances, and corporate expectations take over does technical writing start to become relevant.
If you have thoughts about this topic, please add them in the comments below.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation if you're looking for more info about that. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me. Finally, note that the opinions I express on my blog are my own points of view, not that of my employer.