RE: Text is bad: Was Ideas in Motion

Subject: RE: Text is bad: Was Ideas in Motion
From: "Jason A. Czekalski" <topsidefarm -at- mva -dot- net>
To: TECHWR-L digest <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 19 Mar 2000 15:00:25 -0800

"Rebecca Stevenson" <rstevens -at- hubdata -dot- com> said:

Sometimes graphics are better than text, sometimes text is
better than graphics.

I could not agree more. This comes down to knowing how to make the
finished meet the needs of the audience. The same goes for on-line vs.
written documentation. To do this you have to match the age, education
level, and the circumstances under which the documentation is to be

That means that if you are writing a manual for heavy industrial
equipment (either the hardware itself or the software that controls it),
there are some very important points to remember. The field service
techs and factory mechanics that will use these manuals are almost
always over 35 and are high school graduates at best. Some will have a
tech school diploma, but that tends to be rare.

So what does this mean for the writer?

First, keep the text simple. Short, simple sentences work best. It not
be Shakespear, but these guys will understand it. And yes, even the
documents for complex machines or programs can be at the 6th to 8th
grade reading level. This is not an insult to the end-user. It is a
realization that that is the common reading level for people in that

Second, use a lot of pictures, diagrams, and charts. In many cases, the
picture is worth a thousand words, especially if your audience
historically has a loe reading skill level.

But notice that I didn't say to use all graphics. You have to learn
which to use (text or graphics) under what circumstances. If I am
covering a disassembly/reassembly operation, an exploded-view diagram or
a picture to go along with the text is a must. If I am covering a
procedure, say startup/shutdown, then text alone will often work.

Again, Rebecca is right on the money. This should not be an either/or
debate. The issue is not whether one is better than the other, but under
what circumstances each is appropriate.


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