In finishing grading the final projects for my ENG 218 course at JCC, I was reminded of how I tend to teach technical description to undergraduates. I like to think that I meet students half way -- creating a learning opportunity in a space that is comfortable and familiar to them. Most 218 students have taken the/a freshman comp course, so I try to build the technical description sequence around what the students already know about observation (subjectivity vs. objectivity, the writer's lens, etc.). While the resulting technical descriptions are somewhat predictable in structure and style, there are always one or two descriptions that give me pause to reflect on the role good writing plays in effective technical writing.
I re-read The Snow Leopard a few weeks ago. I enjoy reading it in the fall, trying to finish sections on the same dates that Matthiessen made the entries in his journal (corny, yes). So, coming back to my point: in reading some of the technical descriptions embedded in a few of the ENG 218 final projects, I saw in the descriptions the same strategies and techniques Matthiessen employed as a naturalist observing the habits (mating and otherwise) of blue sheep. Thinking further now, I'm wondering if the technical descriptions I found most compelling were system or process descriptions, rather than traditional "characteristic" descriptions. Regardless, I'm reassured by the ability of young technical writers to approach a project as writers first.
There is more to say here than I'm getting at. Maybe it has something to do with my bias toward the scientific method and objectivity in observation.