Re: Is a bad index better than no index?

Subject: Re: Is a bad index better than no index?
From: Jerry Blackerby <jerryblackerby -at- home -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 24 May 2001 14:01:50 -0500

Jo Byrd said:

>For me it was a bad career choice, but a great education choice.
Librarians have
>the reputation of "knowing everything." They don't. What they know is
how to
>FIND information, what tools to use - what KIND of tools to use - how
to collect
>the information, process it, then dissimulate it.
>Isn't that exactly what we do as tech writers? I wouldn't trade my
>choice for anything! It honed my organizational skills, taught me the
methods of
>finding and extracting information. AND (to bring it back onto the
>topic), how important indexing is!

Good points Jo. I had not thought about what you said, but I do think
you are right. Lydia Wong later wrote that library science or
information science courses would be good supplemental courses for
technical writers. I agree with that. The last few years I have begun
to see that our field of technical writing has a need for knowledge from
many fields of study. Knowing how to find information can definitely
help in indexing.

I learned about indexing the hard way. We were doing documents for a
major company under the guidelines that we would not use any computer or
data processing terms. We were trying to make the documents so easy to
use that any one from the lowest level clerk to the vice-president could
follow the procedures. We were not allowed to use the term "syntax" so
the Human Factors people came up with the word "format." When speaking
of command syntax, we would say "the format of the command." When the
company had various skill levels test the software and documentation, it
was great for most people. We watched a vice-president (ex-programmer)
search high and low for the word syntax in the document. He could not
understand what word we could have used. The Human Factors person was at
a loss. I suggested that we fix the index by adding synonyms, such as
"syntax--see format" for the data processing terms that some people
would expect.

Jerry Blackerby


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