Re: Just do it (Long & Occasionally Sarcastic)

Subject: Re: Just do it (Long & Occasionally Sarcastic)
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Wed, 6 Sep 2000 07:50:58 -0700 (PDT)

"Tom Murrell" wrote ...

<snipped analysis of my prose>

> > First, surveys are rarely if ever scientific. The only people who
> > answer surveys are the bored or opinionated. These are not the best
> > people to define what goes into a document.
> Do you have any DATA to support your statement that "surveys are rarely
> if ever scientific?" (Oh, that's right; you only need to deal in
> opinion--yours--not facts. But you make such lovely arguments; too bad
> they are based on nothing but hot air.)

For a survey to be of any statistical value it must be scientific. That is, it
must poll a representative cross-section of the intended audience, the
participants must reply honestly, and the whole process should use a control

Surveys thrown together at work and handed out to people who are not required
to fill them out does not constitute a scientific survey. It is more akin to
an Internet poll, like those on the CNN web site. These are not scientific and
therefore the results are virtually meaningless. Only people who have any
interest participate in the survey and it is very easy to skew the results. I
could very easily write a batch file that submits response after response to
the TECHWR-L Poll of the Week and thus making the results meaningless.

> "The only people who answer surveys are the bored or opinionated." Now
> we know what you do all day. No wonder you're so grumpy. As for the
> people who answer surveys not being the best people to define what goes
> into a document, well I, too, am a "highly opinionated" though not
> bored person, and I find myself an excellent judge of what should go
> into a document, both as a writer and as a user of both documentation
> and that which they document.

I'm glad you have a good self-esteem Tom. That still does not make you
qualified to write a survey.

> So far, your argument against surveys is (a) that they're stupid, and
> (b) that they only people that take them are unqualified to have an
> opinion on the subject of the survey, which is proved by (a), which is
> in turn proved by (b). You wouldn't happen to have ANYTHING other than
> opinion to back up any of these assertions, would you?

No, my argument is that they are not scientific and therefore meaningless.
Since performing scientific surveys are very difficult and require a lot of
work, writers are better off to learn the subject matter and do the reader's
job for a while.

> Just because useful surveys are difficult to do is no reason
> not to do them.

I disagree. You get misleading results and eat up a lot of time. That time
would be better spent learning what users/readers do.

> What should be done is that some rigor should be
> applied to the creation of a survey. At a minimum, the same standards
> that apply to creating any other document should apply to standards.
> What is the purpose? Who is the audience? What do I need to put into
> the survey that will allow me to achieve my purpose with my audience?
> Yep, that's hard work, but anything worthwhile is going to be hard
> work. And just because something is hard work doesn't mean it might not
> also be worth doing

Of course not. But in comparison to actually learning intricate technical
details, messing around with surveys is a lot less brain-taxing. Lazy writers
love to find ways to cover up their inability to write knowingly about a topic.
Surveys and standards are often used as a distraction to avoid the inevitable.
At some point you have to suck it in and go learn about the subject matter
you're documenting.

> > And as we all know: it is impossible to write a meaningful document
> > without an intimate understanding of the topic/subject matter.
> Again, true, BUT I've seen plenty of documents that were not written in
> a manner that was useful to their putatively intended audience because
> no one bothered to consider what the user needed, or wanted, to know.
> (The two are not always the same.) If I put all of the technical
> information in a document, but I do so in a way that you can't find
> WHAT you need WHEN you need it, I've done as bad a job as if I had left
> out critical information because I was sloppy in learning the technical

I am not advocating ignoring the users needs. Quite the contrary. I am
advocating BECOMING a user yourself so you have a personal understanding of
what the user/reader needs and wants.

Andrew Plato

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