Re: language and communication

Subject: Re: language and communication
From: Pat Anderson <panders -at- aw -dot- sgi -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2000 17:58:06 -0500

Hi Bruce. Hi Dan.

I'd be the last one to document a computer language or an API in anything but words with diagrams. Definitely, words are important.

I do worry, however, when we seem to take the viewpoint that words are always the best way of communicating. Sometimes they aren't.

I had an experience with a customer... gee... 12 years ago or so... He was using our rendering programming language. Had some difficulty understanding the descriptions of two terms... "amult" and "aoffset". This gentleman was in his forties. After about fifteen minutes of discussion, I found out that he is dyslexic. Three small images illustrating the ranges of each of these terms would have helped him immeasurably.

We still don't translate our technical manuals, so a fair number of our users are encountering our English manuals as (at the very least) their second language. Illustrations would help them, too.

I'm starting to see some non-verbal products of technical communication in areas I wouldn't have expected them... for example, at they have created a visual hardware setup for an HP workstation that requires no translation, because it's word-free. (They won an STC award for it). That reduces the costs, when you don't have to localize, and can print a much larger quantity.

Sometimes the right picture can be worth a thousand words. Sometimes not.
(sometimes you need the right movie clip)


At 9:55 PM -0500 25/11/00, Bruce Byfield wrote:
>Dan Emory wrote:
>> Catering to the "post-literate" only guarantees that it will arrive. All of
>> the concern
>> shown on this list about preciseness of language for the sake of unambiguous
>> clarity is lost if text is replaced by cartoons and movie clips.
>Funny how the post-literate world looks remarkably like the
>pre-literate world. :-)
>Not that non-literate forms of communication should be despised.
>Oral cultures, for example, produce people with extraordinary
>memories, capable (as in archaic Greece) of remembering thousands of
>lines, or of composing them on the fly or (as in early Scandinavia)
>of memorizing dozens of laws and precedents. I remember a late novel
>by Mary Renault in a Greek bard of about 500 BCE laments that his
>student writes things down, because written information can be
>easily corrupted and because he is afraid that his student's memory
>will become uncertain.
>However, for the types of detailed information that tech writers
>ordinarily deal with, the written word does seem the best medium,
>even though it isn't necessarily the only medium.
>Bruce Byfield, Outlaw Communications
>Contributing Editor, Maximum Linux
>604.421.7189 bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com
>"If religion is the opium of the people, then TV is the heroin."
>- Kev Carmody

Pat Anderson,
Documentation Manager, Design Products
tel: (416) 874-8375
email: panders -at- aw -dot- sgi -dot- com

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