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Old 11-16-2012, 01:26 PM   #1
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Do Inadequate Writing Skills Engender Bad Coding?

Coder and literary editor Bernard Meisler seems to think so, according to his piece in The Atlantic Monthly:

The Real Reason Silicon Valley Coders Write Bad Software

He argues that a greater emphasis on literacy will result in better software -- that, to excel at coding and design, a software programmer must first master the art of writing lucid prose.

Last edited by Prestidigitweeze; 11-16-2012 at 01:35 PM.
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Old 11-16-2012, 01:50 PM   #2
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Since code with bad spelling, or bad grammar or syntax doesn't compile and run, I don't really see the connection.

Programmers need to master programming logic, and math certainly helps a lot on that, but writing lucid prose is for the guy who writes the help file (which should not be the programmer anyway).
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Old 11-16-2012, 01:58 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by taustin View Post
Since code with bad spelling, or bad grammar or syntax doesn't compile and run, I don't really see the connection.

Programmers need to master programming logic, and math certainly helps a lot on that, but writing lucid prose is for the guy who writes the help file (which should not be the programmer anyway).
It sounds as if you might not have read the article yet. If you do read it, you'll have a better idea of the argument he's making and whether or not you think it's valid.

He's a coder and editor who majored in literature at Brown and and then studied software design at NYU, so I thought the legion of readers, writers and programmers on Mobile Read might be interested in his thoughts.
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Old 11-16-2012, 02:18 PM   #4
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I know plenty of bad English writers that are quite good coders and plenty of good English writers that can't write a sniff of code in my experience (I've been a coder off an on for more than a decade). I do believe that the structure invovled in writing good prose could be beneficial to coders in structuring both thought and logic, but I don't believe bad English skills = bad software. Bad software in my experience is based on inadequate business understanding for the problem(s) that need to be solved. I can throw as much talent as I want a business problem, but if it's ill-defined and prone to changes along the development timeline, it will be crappy.
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Old 11-16-2012, 02:29 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Prestidigitweeze View Post
Coder and literary editor Bernard Meisler seems to think so, according to his piece in The Atlantic Monthly:

The Real Reason Silicon Valley Coders Write Bad Software

He argues that a greater emphasis on literacy will result in better software -- that, to excel at coding and design, a software programmer must first master the art of writing lucid prose.
Most general statements are false including this one.
Most of the documentation this self taught programmer did for over 30 years was internal documentation. It was mostly done for my own benefit for maintenance purposes. I would document what in the world I was trying to do since I knew 6 months later it would take me a long time to get my mind back in the same place to change or enhance the code. I was terrible at developing external, end user documentation yet considered myself an expert working one on one with my customers teaching them how to use a system.
In my view the ability to write lucid prose may not be a requirement, but it certainly should not be considered a hindrance either.
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Old 11-16-2012, 02:41 PM   #6
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I can understand where Meisler is coming from. It makes perfect sense to me.
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Old 11-16-2012, 03:26 PM   #7
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He's right, that most API documentation is total crap. I'd extend that belief to most technical manuals and help files.
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Old 11-17-2012, 07:26 AM   #8
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I agree - proper commenting, naming of variables, structures, subroutines, and documentation is key to making software useable/reusable.
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Old 11-17-2012, 07:29 AM   #9
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I agree - proper commenting, naming of variables, structures, subroutines, and documentation is key to making software useable/reusable.
That's really where the difference lies between professional programmers and amateur hobbyists. Hobbyists may be (and often are) good coders, but coding only forms a small part of what professional programmers actually do.

Last edited by HarryT; 11-17-2012 at 07:31 AM.
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Old 11-17-2012, 08:43 AM   #10
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People need to express their thoughts clearly in many forms of writing, and in all computer programs. The ability to form clear thoughts and express them is the common denominator between good writers and good coders.

The bit about octaves is absurd. It does give an example of a point: when you are addressing an audience unknowledgeable in the subject matter, if you write or speak well they will often believe almost anything you tell them.
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Old 11-17-2012, 08:49 AM   #11
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Literacy does help, but it's very different for artist one. I'm not sure if such literacy is even teached anywhere. One aim should be clarity and unambiguity... English isn't very good tool for these purposes. It's completely different field for anything else.
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Old 11-17-2012, 09:36 AM   #12
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He's right, that most API documentation is total crap. I'd extend that belief to most technical manuals and help files.
The disconnect IMO comes from the difference between literary thought and logical thought. A math or programming major will argue that math requirements are there to teach you how to think. A liberal arts major argues that humanities requirements are there to teach you how to think. Both literal schools of thought refuse to acknowledge the other's position for fear of undermining their own.

Naturally, that means your programmers aren't going to be able to write very well, and your liberal arts majors are going to have difficulty understanding what a given function does to document it.
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Old 11-17-2012, 10:22 AM   #13
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The main in-house programmer at the company I work for is downright terrible at writing, but when he's looking at lines of code... It's quite the opposite.

I'm sure that anyone could have a similar anecdote for and against the argument, but the plural of "anecdote" isn't "data."
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Old 11-19-2012, 01:51 PM   #14
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teh, I think the disconnect is more universal than that. I think it it more like valuing the difficult tasks you know well (e.g. programming) and devaluing the tasks whose difficulty you don't understand as deeply (e.g. technical writing).

We see this all the time with artists in various media who want their works photographed. They will often use a digicam and take the image themselves, right? They value their own work but won't pay for someone else's skill. Pet peeve of mine.

I imagine many software/hardware groups are like that. We did the hard thing. Now who's got a spare five minutes to write the manual?
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Old 11-19-2012, 02:46 PM   #15
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That's really where the difference lies between professional programmers and amateur hobbyists. Hobbyists may be (and often are) good coders, but coding only forms a small part of what professional programmers actually do.
Oh I've seen a good portion of so-called professional programmers that couldn't code their way out of a paper bag. I've worked both with them and for them over the last 30 years.
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