Re: Process kills the

Subject: Re: Process kills the
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 27 Oct 2000 10:10:08 -0700

Dan Emory wrote:
> 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
> together?


I know that you advocate process as strongly as Andrew questions it,
and that this exchange is simply the latest in a series of periodic

However, please notice that neither my comments nor Andrew's are
framed in either-or terms. They are both about emphasis. I wrote
about the problems of overly rigid process, and even said that
process can sometimes point out gaps in structure. Similarly,
Andrew's comments above are about focus. More generally, the issue
can be abstracted to be a discussion of how the general and the
particular should play off one another. There is no suggestion that
one should be chosen over another, or that one is unimportant.

> 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?

I take second place to no one in my admiration for Frank Lloyd
Wright. However, the same traits that you mention could be applied
to looking for an organic structure in a mass of information just as
easily as to following a process. In fact, I suggest that the
analogy argues against process rather than for it. If Wright had
followed process blindly, he would have designed mediocre houses
that looked no different from what everyone else was doing. His
concern to built houses that fit into their environment suggests
that he fit the task to the particulars, rather than the other way

> 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."

Yes, and after teaching first year composition at university for ten
years, I can tell you that most people learn a mechanical outline
that handicaps their writing. Many also found that they poured their
energies into the outline, rather than the writing.

In my classes, I taught that outlining was important, but that
people needed to find a form of outlining that worked for them. I
also taught that, while an outline saved time and gave direction at
the start of writing, it should be regarded as a work in progress
that might change as you wrote and gained more understanding of your
subject. I must have taught about 1500 students, and, of that
number, probably no more than 50 found that formal outlining worked
well for them. The rest found that a variety of techniques worked
for them. Many used different methods depending on the length of
what they were writing. About the only constant was that, the larger
the project, the greater the need for both formal planning and for

Bruce Byfield, Outlaw Communications
Contributing Editor, Maximum Linux
604.421.7189 bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com

"Rats bite, bees sting,
Bullets strike and tigers spring
While love whispers, money talks,
But Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes must burn."
-Leon Rosselson, "Penny for the Guy"

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