Textbook writing: don't just blame the authors!

Subject: Textbook writing: don't just blame the authors!
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 15 Jan 2001 14:52:48 -0500

Interesting thread, and though I don't have much to critique about what's
been said thus far, I do feel it necessary to add a few things that have
been left unsaid:

- In many cases, it is the teachers or school board officials who read,
review, and select the textbooks that will be used by their students. It's
_their_ responsibility to reject shoddily written and edited books--and if
they don't have the expertise to do so, they should find someone who has
that expertise. A publisher who consistently produces books that are
rejected will either clean up their act and keep selling or will go bankrupt
and return to making a comparitively honest living selling snake oil.

- The parents of students who buy shoddy books also have a responsibility to
insist that the books be returned to the publisher for a full refund if the
books don't meet certain minimum standards for accuracy. We're paying for
the school system, folks, and we have a right to demand value for our money.

Of course, nothing's ever that simple. Who sets the minimum standards? Who
gets to decide whether "creation science" is included or excluded from the
textbook? Should there be national or local standards for textbooks?
Difficult issues indeed.

Techwr-l tie-in? For the first point, we (as communicators) must recognize
that we can no longer guarantee that our publishers or reviewers will do
quality control for us, and that means that we need to take more
responsibility for getting it right the first time. (That's particularly
true since many publishers now have no in-house editors, and rely on the
author to ensure quality reviews.) For the second point, we need to be much
more vocal about our unwillingness to accept crappy documentation. It's hard
to complain that we're unappreciated with anyjustice if we don't loudly and
repeatedly compliment the managers of companies that produce good docs--or
complain equally loudly and repeatedly to the managers of companies that
produce lousy docs.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer

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