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July 27, 2009

In defense of English majors: we can understand business issues, too

In his latest blog entry, Neil Perlin explains how important it is for technical writers to have an understanding of business issues. With such knowledge, they can contribute to cost justifications for decisions that affect them directly. I couldn’t agree more with that. It is absolutely in writers’ best interests (and a matter of self-preservation) to understand processes and costs.

I strongly disagree, however, with the following assertion:

Writers from fine arts or English backgrounds can rarely discuss cost-justification in finance terms, so they have little input on buying decisions.

I am an English major, and I freely admit I am more of a “words” person than a “numbers” person. That being said, I am no slouch in the finance department. (Calculus is another matter, though.) I know many people with degrees in English and the liberal arts who are quite adept at understanding The Big Picture and developing business cases. Lumping all of us into a “can rarely discuss cost-justification” group is unfair.

Now I need to remind myself not to group software developers into a “can rarely write a coherent procedure” category. (It’s easy to make generalizations when you’re not the target of them.)