RE: POLL: A question of rhetoric (not a rhetorical question)

Subject: RE: POLL: A question of rhetoric (not a rhetorical question)
From: KMcLauchlan -at- chrysalis-its -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 5 Nov 2001 17:48:38 -0500

Cadorette Johanne [mailto:johanne -dot- cadorette -at- locusdialog -dot- com] said
something that sounded vaguely like:

> Personally, I avoid words like "don't" and "can't" because they sound
> kind of alarmist, or like a slap on the wrist. In fact, I just now
> replaced a bunch of "don't forget to activate your changes"
> to "remember
> to activate your changes." There is no loss of integrity, and
> a positive
> sentiment is communicated rather than a negative one.

I think I have to disagree with the trend I'm hearing
-- i.e., to let the marketing wonks dictate the use of
exclusively up-beat, non-threatening language.

Because of the nature of the product and the nature of
the systems and situations in which it is used, there
are times when I really do need/want to use words like
"DO NOT"... and wish I could make them flash in colors.

The guy advising us on Common Criteria compliance and
on making nice with German customers and government says:
"These people insist that when there's something they
must not do, or something that they'll regret doing, they
be informed in no uncertain terms *before* they might
do it, in installing or using a product. They don't want
implications and inferrences. They want it clearly stated
at the appropriate place in the procedure. No weasel words."

I've got even our marketing folks trained to believe
that an intelligent user is not happy with watered-down
phrasing when a misunderstanding can cost them money.
They KNOW there are times when it's not appropriate to
use a hammer, and they are happy to see that clearly
stated in the docs.

If it's procedures for defusing bombs, or procedures for
creating/storing/BACKING-UP! the root keys for your
hundred-million-dollar PKI roll-out, you really do want
to know the bad things that could ... er... bring about
unfavorable outcomes.

Even words like "avoid" are sometimes not sufficiently
strong for the situation. There are times when you want
your "DO NOT" highlighted with borders and backgrounds
and centered in the middle of the page in a large font.

The person calling the Help Desk just doesn't want to
hear that what he did was an unrecoverable no-no, duly
documented in the mildest language on page xxx of
Appendix C. The folks TAKING those calls don't want
to be in the positionn of telling anybody that that's
the situation they are in.

Kevin (been there) McLauchlan

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