Submit your “Fitch Award” design now! Win nothing!

Posted on April 20, 2010

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Recently I’ve become a fan of Jim Fitch.

While his name is not yet a household word, you may have run across it in my previous post (“The Neglected Addiction“) in which I had a little fun with his “12-Step Program for Recovering Addicts of Lubrication Neglect.”

Jim Fitch is the CEO and co-founder of Noria Corporations. He is also director and board member of the International Council of Machine Lubrication, and a U.S. delegate to the ISO Tribology and Oil Analysis working group. On top of all this, he lectures and writes hundreds of articles on his area of expertise.

Now admittedly, to most of us the subject of machinery lubrication holds about as much interest as — well, as the subject of machinery lubrication. But Jim Fitch is one of those rare and valuable creatures: an expert who can explain his subject clearly and entertainingly.

His article on oil filters (“How Telephone Poles Are Like Filters“) likens filters to a pile of telephone poles through which he invites us to pour everything from sand to beach balls. With this analogy, in a lucid, step-by-step manner, Fitch explains how the order in which contaminants flow through a filter can affect whether or not they are caught in it, and how this can change with vibration. In “Lubrication UFOs” he explores the history of mistaken lubrication beliefs, including that of Samuel M. Kier, a mid-19th century Pittsburgh pharmacist who bottled and sold petroleum oil as an oral medication. Fitch wryly comments, “People died young in those days.”

If this doesn’t seem remarkable, stop and think about the last time you read something of a technical nature that was both understandable and enjoyable.

Exactly. Technical writers with the ability to clearly articulate issues within their field are lamentably rare.

Often this is simply a case of poor education. The trades (and by association, many colleges) put virtually no stock in reading and writing, and so graduates of most technical fields are sent out with little ability to communicate. But combined with this is a proprietary tendency to keep insiders and outsiders separate. “If everyone can understand you,” the ego reasons, “they won’t believe you’re an expert.”

It’s people such as Jim Fitch who prove this to be false.

Fitch’s style, vocabulary, and simple, yet effective analogies are all aimed at helping the reader to understand exactly what he is talking about — and his status as an expert is only enhanced by it.

Such talent, and such passion for communication, should be rewarded.

So I propose the Jim Fitch Award of Excellence in Online Technical Communication.

But I need help. I’m not particularly talented in art and design, and I’d like a nice little plaque to send him. So please — send submissions and we’ll do a vote on which one wins.

I also need eyes. I’d like to make “The Fitchly” a monthly award (perhaps seasonal), but I can only read so many technical articles, so I’d appreciate any suggestions for candidates. We can choose winners by some kind of vote.

Hell, I’m open to suggestions for anything.

Help make The Fitch Award a reality. Let him, and those few like him, know we appreciate them.

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