RE: What sayest me... on Worthless TC Degrees

Subject: RE: What sayest me... on Worthless TC Degrees
From: Chuck Martin <CMartin -at- serena -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 24 Mar 2000 15:29:20 -0800

> -----Original Message-----
> From: John Posada [mailto:jposada01 -at- yahoo -dot- com]
> Sent: Friday, March 24, 2000 1:24 PM
> Subject: Re: What sayest me... on Worthless TC Degrees

> I'm not proposing that indexes don't have their place.
> However, I think they are used too often as a crutch
> inplace of intelligent, thought-out, and intuitive
> structure.

It occurs to me: what structure is truly needed in many kinds of
documentation? For what a lot of people do (software documentation),
structure isn't really needed for a lot of the material. It's not like users
are going to read the document front to back. No, what happens in this
scenario is that a user needs a particular nugget of information. and needs
to know where to find it fast. In this scenario, a "linear" book is no
different from a hypertext system: a user simply needs access to one
particular spot, cares less about the overall organization, and will get
frustrated if that spot can't be found quickly and easily.

That's the role of an index.

All that said, I recognize that many techwhirlers don't do software
documentation, and that other documents are used in different ways (training
materials, for example). When material is designed to have one concept build
on another, then the structure is indeed important. Even when the structure
is finely tuned, however, an index is just as critically important. Here's
why: once the structured document has been used as designed, how often will
it have to be referred to in the future? Even if just once, the best way to
direct users to the right place is a well-groomed index.

> it's easier to create an index to a poorly created
> body of work than to agonize over the placement of
> each element of information, always thinking "Is this
> really the best place for this little hugget of
> knowledge."
> Some material is just too dense to not need an index.
> However, more effort should be given to good structure
> and less to lists with page numbers.
> --- Tim Altom <taltom -at- simplywritten -dot- com> wrote:
> > John, I think you may be overstating the case.
> >
> > If a manual is utterly task-based and properly
> > designed for that, an index
> > is of questionable value. But many manuals have long
> > sections of exposition,
> >
Chuck Martin
Sr. Technical Writer, SERENA Software

"People who use business software might despise it, but they are getting
paid to tolerate it....Most people who are paid to use a tool feel
constrained not to complain about that tool, but it doesn't stop them from
feeling frustrated and unhappy about it."
- "The Inmates are Running the Asylum"
Alan Cooper

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