Re: non-tech techwr better for end users (was "same boat")

Subject: Re: non-tech techwr better for end users (was "same boat")
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 02 Jan 2001 13:23:16 -0800

"Christensen, Kent" wrote:
> I'd offer the notion the term nontechnical tech writer is an oxymoron.
> There are certainly technical aspects of tech writing in addition to knowing
> the technical aspects of the product being described. I'm in favor of
> knowing the latter, too, but regardless I find the term nontechnical tech
> writer demeaning. (One technical aspect is that "non" is not hyphenated
> onto the front of a word--just add it.)

Your comment started me down a course of thought (maybe you better
apologize to everyone on the list :-) ).

For the past 20 months, I've been involved with the free
software/open source movements as a writer/product manager at
different companies, as a journalist, and in my free time. As you
may know, these movements do not believe in software as intellectual
property. Rather, they write and distribute software while
encouraging anybody who's interested to modify it.

One of the first things that I had to unlearn was the distinction
between users and developers. Although many people in these
movements are doing incredible projects - almost singlehandedly
replacing PartitionMagic or VMware, for example - a surprising
number of them are humble. They don't see themselves as separate
from users. They're just users who came to write software because
what they needed didn't exist. The distinction between user and
developer which everyone who works with proprietary software takes
for granted no longer exists for them. There's simply a continuum of
users with varying degrees and areas of skill.

I realize that many of my comments over the last week are informed
by this attitude. But, more importantly, I also wonder whether
adopting this view wouldn't radically change many people's views on
this subject. If the end-user is no longer distinct from the
developer, no longer someone to appease or champion, or to coddle by
carefully hiding the complexity away, what sort of manuals would we

I can help thinking that the answer is: better ones.

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

"Rationality itself, tied to moral decency - the most powerful joint
instrument for good that our planet has ever known."
-Stephen J. Gould, Introduction, "Why People Believe Weird Things"

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