Re: Structure vs Substance?

Subject: Re: Structure vs Substance?
From: "Tim Altom" <taltom -at- simplywritten -dot- com>
To: "Andrew Plato" <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>, "TechDoc List" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 11 Jun 2000 09:13:01 -0500

Andrew, I see your arguments as leaping from one level of abstraction to
another. There is nothing inherently wrong with structure. Indeed, it's

You and he were that I was on track the of. Ooops, lost my structural
integrity there for a moment.

A building with no occupants is not a waste of space, but the promise of a
certain kind of tenancy. The building determines the kind of tenant that
fits best, not the other way around. In the real world, a savvy tenant
doesn't rebuild an office park, but seeks out one that works best for him.
And it does the tenant little good to bemoan how the building was
constructed, nor to bemoan the need for a building at all.

You talk first about a single tech writer wanting to write, then leap to a
supposed New Economy that encompasses the globe. While this may be
satisfying for you, it's confusing and misleading. The New Economy, far from
being a disorganized wash of fluid, is more accurately modeled as a
collection of nodes, each of which has its own structure, and between which
there are accepted protocols for communication, just as the Internet isn't
an ocean, but a collection of nodes that use TCP/IP to communicate. Violate
THAT standard and you'll be left standing all alone, not participating in
the New Economy. You could have discovered a cure for all mankind's
ailments, but if you refuse to buy into TCP/IP, nobody will find out about

The same logic applies to documentation. In our view here, tech doc is not a
black art, but a process. The process may change over time, but NOT at the
whim of a single writer. We see documentation very much the way that a
manufacturer sees an assembly line. Go ahead...violate the structural
integrity of an assembly line and see what happens. You may not like working
in that environment, and that's fine, but there's a reason for the line's
structure. It's designed for efficiency. Granted, a line that efficiently
produces bad quality, or products that no one buys, isn't of maximum use,
but it's served its designed purpose even so...the failure lay elsewhere.
Producing product inefficiently doesn't help anyone. In our view, there is
NO excuse for inefficient production. Efficiency and efficacy do not have to
be traded off.

So long as we view tech doc as a cottage industry within the corporation,
we'll be lumped with typists, poets, painters, and hackers. Lawyers,
accountants, engineers, technicians, programmers, and MBAs are taught
systematic ways to approach their projects, methods by which they can avoid
the more egregious wheel-reinventing waste. If we don't have similar
structure methods, we will continue to be nothing more than hacks, insisting
on not just using our own programming language, but on the absolute RIGHT to
reinvent the language itself to suit ourselves, for each project. Structure
misapplied is counterproductive, but an automobile misapplied is a deadly
missile. Any powerful tool can be misapplied and come to grief. That doesn't
mean you criticize everybody else's tool.

> I am arguing against organizations that value structure (processes,
> methodologies, style guides, and rules) over content and plain-old hard
> This extends into software development, tech writing, hell even food
> Without content, organization is useless. A building with no occupants is
> waste of space.
<much else excised for brevity>

Tim Altom
Simply Written, Inc.
Featuring FrameMaker and the Clustar(TM) System
"Better communication is a service to mankind."
Check our Web site for the upcoming Clustar class info

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