[Fwd: Re: Justified or Not]

Subject: [Fwd: Re: Justified or Not]
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 31 Aug 2000 19:47:25 -0400

Christi Carew wrote:
> And the only way to learn about conventions and traditions (and studies for
> that matter) is to ask (at a search engine or on this list), which is what I
> did.

We were in complete alignment up to this point. There is a teaser ad for
a new fall drama series on NBC (name escapes me but it's about some guy
who solves crimes) in which the protagonist tells his students to find
out how many victims there were. One student says, "You mean you want us
to go online...?" And he responds, "No. I want you to put on your socks
and shoes and go down to the court clerk's office...."

I think this list in particular is not a very good resource for this
information. Too many people with degrees in technical communication.

There are some decent online resources (comp.fonts and
comp.graphics.apps.pagemaker are two decent Usenet news groups. You can
probably find others.) But I think the bookstore or library is a much
better resource. That's where you will find ink-on-paper reality.

As for conventions in the narrow field of user guides and training
manuals, frankly most of them that I see are awful. The broader area of
technical books from major publishing houses would be better models to

> I could learn best if they (the "people who came before me"_ would give me
> some reason for their statements. However, just because "it's always been
> done that way" also doesn't make it the best. I'll certainly listen and
> watch at what's been done before me, but I won't follow it blindly. I'd
> prefer to have at least a little explanation behind it.

Fair enough. But the explanations tend to be rationalizations. That is,
they still boil down to either, "it's always been done that way" or "I
like it that way." A good many practices are simply imitative of
precedents that turn out to have been based either on some abbott's
taste or on a technical limitation of some device. As such, they are
just _there_ to be imitated if you want to be conventional or flouted if
you want to be unconventional. In advertising and consumer magazine
design, people often want to be unconventional. In most other fields,
being conventional is usually preferable.

Another consideration is this: I have a lot more respect for the
innovations of an artist who has demonstrated mastery of the underlying
craft (be it drawing, painting, sculpture, whatever) than I have for the
work of an enfant terrible who shouts that he is revolutionizing all art
by dropping out of art school. Look at the early drawings of Picasso,
Mondrian, even Pollack, and you'll see what I mean. The same applies in
book design and typography. First recapitulate the phylogeny. Then

> So far, the only instance I've seen on when full justify is the "right
> choice" is in newspapers (and maybe someone mentioned it in regards to
> magazines). However, that's not (in my, perhaps limited) view of tech
> writing (granted, depending on the magazine).
> The original poster wrote "How do you all feel about justifying documents?"
> Somehow, I get the feeling she doesn't work for a newspaper. I would (on a
> limb) guess that she's working on some sort of user documentation.
> I can pick up my variety of user documentation that's come with various
> softwares, and I'm not sure I do see a convention.

I really don't object to user manuals that are set ragged right. It can
be done well. Justification can be done well (although not in Word).
Where this all started, I believe, was with the question of whether one
is "better" than the other. And my whole argument is that either can be
perfectly readable if done well and perfectly unreadable if done badly.

> Not sure how to end. So I'll just stop writing.
> Christi Carew

Okay. I really don't think we disagree very much at all. But it has been
a stimulating conversation. Thanks.


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