Structure and substance: stability and flexibility

Subject: Structure and substance: stability and flexibility
From: "Carnall, Jane" <Jane -dot- Carnall -at- compaq -dot- com>
To: 'TECHWR-L' <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 13 Jun 2000 11:14:56 +0100

Andrew Plato wrote:
>Structure cannot exist without content. Because structure needs content to
>it up.

Content cannot exist without structure. Without structure, you could as
easily have written:

>cannot up structure exist structure hold without because needs content it
content to >content

but you didn't, because, though you are for some reason unwilling to admit
it, you cannot have content without structure, or structure without content.
An unstructured manual, if you can really imagine such a thing, would be an
utterly valueless mess: strings of unconnected, unrelated facts, all of
which might well be true, but impossible for the user to find or to connect
with the thing the manual was about. (Simply putting it all in alphabetical
order for reference is itself a structure, though not always the most
helpful one.)

>You can have matter. Lots of it in fact. The universe is chock full of
>But some force must be imposed upon that matter before it makes sense.
>Likewise, matter can lie around forever, but unless something comes along
>rams a force against it, it won't ever be much that just chaotic matter.
But at
>least there is something there. No matter and endless energy is a

Whereas no energy and endless matter is, well, a pile of (um) flower food...

For heaven's sake, isn't this a silly argument? I feel silly just for
joining in like this. Everyone (except AP) knows that if you're the only
writer working on a project, you can be very flexible about your structure
and your processes, to the extent of keeping it all in your own head, if you
like: and if you're AP you can claim that means you don't HAVE a process,
you just USE YOUR OWN COMMON SENSE, but that's just silly. Nothing ever got
done without a process of some kind, written or unwritten, except maybe just
producing (er) flower food.

Anyone who has ever worked on a project with more than one writer knows that
the more solid your processes and your structures, the easier it is for all
the writers to work together: but if they get too solid, you can find
yourself stuck in the structures when you want to do something a bit
different. The best is where the process/the system is solid enough to
provide stability yet flexible enough to provide room for difference, and
that is true for more than tech writing.

Now, if we could all just agree to ignore AP when he starts shouting that we
DON'T NEED PROCESSES, we might actually have a good argument/discussion
about how we can achieve that.

Andrew Plato wrote:
>Oh, cool. So all I have to know to be a lawyer is how to use all those
>CD-ROMS. Hot damn! I never knew it was so easy. All I have to do is ram a
>processes into my head and I can pass the bar!

Well, it's more than a "few" processes, but, yes, Andrew, if you were
capable of comprehending and appreciating the importance of process and
procedure, I think you'd make a great lawyer. I can see it now....

Jane Carnall
Technical Writer, Compaq, UK
Unless stated otherwise, these opinions are mine, and mine alone.

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