Martha Stewart: a technical communicator (seriously!)

My best housewarming gift has been the Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook that a good friend gave me over the holidays.

Steve and I are in our 50s, but this is our first home. So a lot of stuff is new to us: raking leaves, caring for hardwood floors, landscaping, garages, basements, driveways. We’ve set up an observation post to watch how our neighbors behave in hopes of gleaning clues to better living.

I’ve never been much of a housekeeper, but with a new house I’m committed to a higher level of upkeep.

Enter Martha and her handbook.

Not really a “hand” book unless you’re Shrek or the Jolly Green Giant. It’s over 5 pounds and 744 pages.

But it’s an encyclopedia of housekeeping and a model of technical communication. I’m thinking of nominating her as an honarary STC Fellow. Wouldn’t it be great to have her give the keynote at the Atlanta STC Conference in 2009?

I can tell you’re not convinced.
OK, smarty, here goes:

  • What’s the purpose of a beater brush on a vaccuum cleaner?
  • Name 3 nonmechanical dehumidifiers. (Martha lists 4 so I’m cutting you a break.)
  • Tell me how to patch a hole in a shirt in 10 steps or less. (Martha does it in 5.)
  • What’s the best way to remove mustard stains from clothes?
  • How long can beets, corn, peppers, or zucchini be stored in the refrigerator?

Are these not technical questions?

Mundane, ho-hum materials, foodstuffs, and activities are actually quite complex.
I was reminded of this recently after a unpleasant bout of food poisoning.

Writers like Martha Stewart provide a roadmap that helps us navigate everyday life to make it safer, cleaner, and better looking!

Thanks, again, Julie!

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5 Responses to Martha Stewart: a technical communicator (seriously!)

  1. sandgroper14 says:

    I have been a tech pubs judge for several Chapter competitions since 2003 and we have accepted cookbooks as legitimate technical writing, so I see no reason why a handbook like the one you describe shouldn’t be classed as technical communication. In my Chapter there was initial argument from the judging coordinator about whether cookbooks constitute tech writing or not.

    My response was: “…cookbooks are probably some of the FIRST tech writing ever done, and some of the first tech writing that people come in contact with – even if they don’t realise it. What is a recipe, except a set of instructions to be performed in a particular order, using a particular technique and tools, and with a set of prerequisites and assumptions?

    To me, a set of instructions for a safety procedure, or software, or a recipe are only different in their content, not in their basic principles.”

    I wonder if the exclusion of cookbooks and other technical writing for (predominantly) women, such as instructions for quilts, knitting, sewing and other crafts, has been excluded because it wasn’t written by—or for—men. And for some reason that was enough to not deem it worthy. Scary thought. I wonder what category of writing the ‘powers that be’ would put all those quilt block patterns from the newspapers of the 1920s and 30s into? If it’s not tech writing, then what is it?

    Martha Stewart has been writing books like this for years, though I’m not sure how much direct input she has these days. Her media empire is huge, and her production of cookbooks, ‘how to’ books, etc. has been prolific. She (or those in her empire) communicate ideas clearly and concisely, and the photographs that accompany her material can equally be classed as technical illustration and art.

    I think if you nominate her as an honorary STC fellow, a couple of immediate spin-offs spring to mind: (1) Some in STC would have to justify why she SHOULDN’T be included, thus facing some of their own prejudices about what constitutes technical writing, (2) an STC award to such a person may give the Society some extra publicity and exposure to those who may not know about it otherwise—Martha mentions lots of functions that she attends and awards that she gets on her show!

    Go for it!

    Rhonda

  2. hharkness says:

    Good points, Rhonda!

    I agree on cookbooks being technical writing.

    Thanks for your support for my nomination!

  3. Mike Hughes says:

    I am reminded of the fellow who set his kitchen on fire in spite of following the cookbook directions quite closely. When the flames were finally doused, the fireman explained that the book should have said, “Grease the inside of the pan,” not “Grease the outside of the pan.”

    It’s called technical writing for a reason.

  4. Mike Hughes says:

    I blew the punchline 😦 Should have been “bottom of the pan” not “outside of the pan.” that’s why comedians get paid to tell jokes.

  5. Mary Sheahan says:

    I’ll vote for that!

    I remember a discussion a few years ago about there being no really famous technical writers — and I had trouble getting people to seriously consider my nomination of Julia Child.

    Now, if you’re looking for a *memorable* bit of technical writing, see if you can dig up a recording of Ed Asner’s mid-80s Saturday Night Live skit “Nuclear Reactor”. The premise & punchline is “You can’t put too much water into a nuclear reactor” — the humor is recognition of the ambiguity.

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