Re: Managing Engineers - black box writing

Subject: Re: Managing Engineers - black box writing
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2000 13:10:01 -0800

mpriestl -at- ca -dot- ibm -dot- com wrote:

> I'd be helped by some concrete examples here. Unless you're documenting an
> open-source product and expect at least some of your users to be getting
> right into the guts of the program, what purpose is served by telling them
> about things they can't change and that have nothing to do with the tasks
> they want to accomplish? Is a tutorial on string (rather, char array)
> programming in C appropriate for a FrameMaker manual? Is it important
> knowledge for the writer of a FrameMaker manual?

As I've suggested in another post, it's not the concepts of
programming that are important, but how it's used. The point isn't
to convey a knowledge of programming to every user, but to use your
knowledge to convey additional information.

To give a simple example, the Windows version of FrameMaker has a
menu item for customizing menus. However, the documentation doesn't
tell you how to set up a custom menu. Armed with the ability to read
code, you could give readers the instructions about how to make a
custom menu that made no assumptions whatsoever about their
programming knowledge, and doesn't try to teach them any.

> Anyone who does object-oriented programming with a third-party class
> library (like, say, Sun's JDK, IBM's OpenClass, or MSFT's Foundation
> Classes) is engaged in black-box programming.
> If you can program using the black-box model, why can't you write using it?

Of course, you can do both. My contention is that you can't do your
best possible job that way, although I grant that you can do an
adequate one, sometimes.

But to take the programming analogy: on one level, it's black box.
However, how the third-party libraries are used isn't. And, in
practice, conscientious programmers do like to probe around and find
out as much as they can about the libraries they're using.

And another problem about black box writing that just occurred to me
is that it can be hard to know that you have all the output. That's
especially true with a GUI. For example, Windows NT comes with any
number of GUI tools, but I don't know any system administrators
worth hiring who would claim that a manual that only documented the
GUI would adequately document their duties. But, a black box writer
might very well not realize this fact unless told by someone else or
until after a few complaints were received.

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

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