Re: Process kills the

Subject: Re: Process kills the
From: Dan Emory <danemory -at- primenet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 26 Oct 2000 17:10:48 -0700

At 12:10 PM 10/26/00 -0700, Andrew Plato wrote:

Too many people assume that if they do something logical and structured
(documenting every little nuance), that this system will be inherently useful
everywhere. This just isn't true.

In my opinion this is one of the most fundamental problems in technical
communications today. Too many writers focus on the organization and structure
of information and not the "value" of that information. Crap is worthless, no
matter how you pretty it up. However, disorganized gold is still valuable.
Process is an unavoidable part of everything we do. It cannot
be avoided. Bad process produces worthless crap. Good process
produces great architecture, great books, great software, and
outstanding examples of technical communication.

Does the fact that most commercial buildings and homes are mediocre
(or, as Andrew would say, "worthless crap") mean that overconcern about
structure is the cause, and architects would be better off just cobbling things

And when you visit a Frank Lloyd Wright house (e.g., Falling Water),
Andrew, can you deny that logical analysis, ingenious structure,
and attention to "every little nuance" are at the core of his genius?

No one, and certainly not Frank Lloyd Wright, would suggest that
one structure fits all, but sound structure, whether it be for a
building or a technical document, must be derived from
fundamental principles that apply to the design of
structures of any given type.

Someone (Einstein?) explained that genius is 90%
attention to detail, and 10% flashes of insight. Yet
Andrew argues that detail and nuance are the enemy of
good technical writing. Must only geniuses be concerned
about details and nuances?

We all learned in high school English class that outlining what
you are going to write is a first principle, and that the intrinsic
structure of any written piece determines whether it will be
successful. Yet Andrew argues that "organization and structure
of information is not the 'value' of that information."

In Andrew's lexicon, "structure, is actually a code word for XML
and SGML, which he clearly does not understand well enough
to spout off constantly about. The fundamental things these
languages add to documents are pre-defined structure,
metadata and independence from proprietary formats. They dictate
nothing about what the structure should be. That's the job of the
people who develop Document Type Definitions (DTDs). Some
DTDs (typically those developed by government bodies)
dictate highly rigid structures, reflecting a proclivity for
micromanagent. But other DTDs allow great flexibility in
structure, permitting them to be adapted to many different

The use of XML/SGML, combined with a well-designed
DTD, are a boon to technical communication.
They make possible the application of structure and
metadata to a new kind of organic process that yields:

+ More efficient authoring.
+ More effective documents.
+ Great improvements in the reuse and repurposing of
+ Easier distribution and information interchange, since
information is not in a proprietary format.
+ Because XML/SGML documents can be parsed into their
constituent structural elements, they can be stored in
databases, and metadata, in the form of element names
and attribute values can provide great improvements in
information retrieval.
+ XML and SGML documents provide the ultimate solution
to single sourcing, because middleware, (e.g., XSL)
can deliver them in the particular form needed by each
end user or delivery requirement.
+ They are readable by both human and non-human users
+ Because of Unicode, they can be delivered in all the
world's languages, intermixed with chemical, mathematical,
musical, and other forms of special notation.

| Nullius in Verba |
Dan Emory, Dan Emory & Associates
FrameMaker/FrameMaker+SGML Document Design & Database Publishing
Voice/Fax: 949-722-8971 E-Mail: danemory -at- primenet -dot- com
10044 Adams Ave. #208, Huntington Beach, CA 92646
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