Re: Structure vs Substance?

Subject: Re: Structure vs Substance?
From: Damien Braniff <dbraniff -at- iss-dsp -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 12 Jun 2000 10:22:15 +0100

> I don't know of any TW who doesn't use a structure when they write. This may be a
> formal standard (e.g military, company style etc) or something that suits
> you/your audience.

Personally, when I start a document I know roughly what I want to convey to the
audience (how it works, how to do x,y,z etc) and from that I create my INITIAL
structure - maybe simply a list of chapter heading. I then start gathering my
information (actually usually started before I 'define' my structure!) and slotting
the information under the various chapter headings I've created. As the
information grows, section heading etc will start to appear and the structure
becomes more defined. At this stage the outline is generally circulated (ideally
get audience feedback) to see if the structure meets the intended needs. Structure
is then firmed up or tweaked (or occassionally re-written!) as needed and work
progresses. This is my preferred method of working even if there is a specified
standard for two main reasons:

1 It is essentially for ME and it's a method that works for ME. It helps me
sort out where information I've gathered best fits, highlights areas I need to
expand on etc.

2 If I am writing to a specified structure/standard it helps me to sort out
where best to put the information I've collected in the specified structure so that
it's useful to the person who'll be using it.

I've worked in a variety of jobs with and without standards and they have ranged
from being really useful to being as much use as a chocolate teapot!

Andrew talks about the substance of the document and I'm in total agreement here -
it can look wonderful, read well and be absolutely useless. I think we've all
probably come across docs like this.

Dan talks about the structure/standard setting the content, as indeed I have seen
it do.

I, personally, don't see these two statements as being mutually exclusive. Almost
everything in life is fluid to a greater or lesser degree, continually evolving to
meet new needs etc. Structures/standards develop to meet a specific need and doc
standards are no different. I've worked as several companies where I was the first
TW with docs previously being written by the programmers/engineers due to personal
taste. The first thing I usually do is talk through what has been done in the
past, how it was done etc and oout of all this usually comes a 'process' that
worked for that specific company - a style, look and feel, etc that met audience
needs and satisfied the company desire for their own style/image/whatever. I've
also worked places where there was a structure in place that seriously needed
changing for one reason or another (new audiences, new requirements etc). What I'm
trying to say (probably not too well as it's still early here!) is that no
standard/structure is sancrosanct but should be a living entity that changes to
meet current requirements.

Structures 'happens' because they work so we use them. However, NO structure works
all the time for all things.

If a structure exists that matches your needs then by all means use it as it will
probably help produce 'good' docs (assuming the content is there).

If a structure doesn't exist is there a close match that you can try/tweak to meet
your needs? If not, create your own structure and if it works well and others
start using it then before you know it you could have yet another standard!

What DID come first - the chicken or the egg?

Damien Braniff
--
Damien Braniff
Technical Author
Integrated Silicon Systems Ltd. Tel: +44 28 90 50 4000
50 Malone Road Fax: +44 28 90 50 4001
Belfast BT9 5BS Web: www.iss-dsp.com






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