RE: HUMOR: I Need Help

Subject: RE: HUMOR: I Need Help
From: KMcLauchlan -at- chrysalis-its -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2001 11:01:52 -0500

Yeah. When I started paying attention to this
thread, I was torn. Was it a case of what Andrew
was decrying -- laziness by somebody who's been
in the trade for a while? Or was it a case of a
newbie looking for a good example to follow?

I've been new at many things. If I figure I'm only
going to do the thing once or twice, then I guess
I'd shamelessly troll for instant gratification.
If, on the other hand, it's going to be part of
my job (or of my recreation), then while I might
ask a similar question, what I'm really hoping for
is a good example... preferrably one that's not
a black-box, so that I can pick it apart and figure
out how to do my own.

Sometimes examples/samples are like hen's teeth...
kinda thin on the ground. Sometimes examples
are so thick and plentiful that you have to watch
your footing... but then the trick is to find
the *good* examples among the abundant dreck.
The output might look just fine from two "templates",
but behind the scenes, one is a compact marvel of
good technique, labor-saving devices, and structure-
enforcing methods, while the other is a cobbled-
together bale of chicken-wire and chewing gum that
gave a good result through sheer force-of-will on
the part of the writer... and won't if somebody
else tries to update it.

If you're a newbie, you can benefit from a good
template, not because it does your work for you,
but because it shows you how that work can be
WELL done. For example, I picked up FrameMaker,
on-the-fly (and not without much frustration).
I'm still doing so, having never taken any organized
instruction. My docs are loosely based on one or
more of the templates that came with the software
three years ago, and the good, well-thought-out
aspects of my docs (apart from content... ahem!)
are merely the traces of somebody else's good work,
after I've butchered them for a few years. Frame
gurus would be aghast at things I've done... and

failed to do. My readers don't know. My customer
docs look fine. But anybody taking over from me,
or joining me... has my condolences.

So, if somebody's request *gets* a "template" from me,
it's probably because I suspected the request was
laziness. If I think it's a legitimate newbie cry
for help in the wilderness, then the *last* thing
I'll inflict on the poor dear is one of my own works!


I suspect I'm not alone in that I grab what's handy
in order to do my work, and only gradually trim off
the wrong-headed and inefficient aspects (most of
which I introduce by myself). So while I do OK with
FrameMaker (for example), I'm still looking UP at many
of the things that are explained in the FM user docs.
I haven't got there yet, cuz either a section or function
doesn't apply to what I'm doing day-to-day (or I just
haven't recognized how it does/should), or I've
kludged something that seems to get me by.
Meanwhile certain other people have not only mastered
the tool, but have gone beyond to develop techniques
and capabilities not dreamed of by the original developers.

An excellent example is Donald Pratt, who devised an
arcane but effective way to automate thumbtabs/edgetabs
and who generously gives away, not just the method, but
the homemade font and the structure to make it happen...
and then he holds your hand while you make it work
for yourself. Whew! (Had to insert that plug. He
deserves it.)

Likely, not even Andrew sprang fully-formed from the
brow of Zeus. He probably had to put in time as a
junior writer, learning not just how his tools basically
worked, but seeing how others had set up... templates
that saved time, made neat things happen routinely and
reliably (still a bit of a trick with Word, I hear...)
and avoided -- or extricated from -- the pitfalls inherent
in any complex tool.

A final thought: in my years in the biz, I've never once
taken a timely instructional course for any tool that
I've used. Several times, the course has come long before
the tool was available to use, and I forgot all the content
before I got a chance to use it.
Far more often, I've had to muddle along for weeks or months,
kicking work out the door by hook or by crook, before I
could get the course... meanwhile learning all kinds of bad
habits and embedding all sorts of inadvertent nasties into
my work. Sometimes, the muddling was aided by manuals. Other
times it was online help or nuthin'. Occasionally, I've had
the luxury of being able to re-do earlier work to reflect
the "Master" techniques or "best practices" learned from a course.
In the middle of the muddle, I've always appreciated a
ready-made example of how a real-world output was *supposed*
to be constructed. Sometimes, people have been kind enough
to point me at such examples.

/kevin (still firmly straddling the fence on this issue)

Melanie Shook [mailto:mshook -at- com2001 -dot- com] sez:
> Jane Carnall wrote:
> <<I wonder if anyone *does* send templates/samples in response to the
> requests.>>
> Actually, when I first began doing training documentation, I
> was having a
> discussion (offline) with someone about training, who did
> send me a pdf of a
> document as a sample. It wasn't a template that I could
> actually use, but it
> did provide an example of one way I could structure such a
> document. I then
> evaluated the structure and design based on my users' needs,
> compared it to
> other samples I located on the web, and came up with a
> suitable design for
> my purposes.
> I think newbies who are asking for "templates" are most
> likely looking for a
> place to start, or get a general idea of what others have
> done, not someone
> else to do their work. (Some may be lazy, but most probably
> just need a
> nudge in the right direction.)

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