Hacko and process

Subject: Hacko and process
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 20 Dec 2001 17:17:23 -0800

Andrew Plato wrote:

Which is ultimately the prime failing of most of Jo Anne Hackos books.
They contain some good ideas that if you ever tried to implement them all
in the real world, you would quickly reduce pubs department into a
bureaucratic quagmire.

When I was starting out, I dutifully read Hackos. After a few jobs, I quickly found that her ideas had only fitful relevance.
The problem is not just that many companies bring writers in at the last moment, or that many people have a low regard for documentation.
Nor is the problem simply that Hackos assumes that only one method can produce decent documentation, although that's part of it. As a former university instructor who dealt with hundreds of students, I know that it's nonsense and a waste of time to believe that only one methodology can produce good results in writing anything. Moreover, trying to straitjacket people into using a methodology that they're uncomfortable with can prevent many people from doing their best work. In other words, that attitude can create the kind of problem that it tries to prevent.

Instead, the problem is simply that documentation simply isn't that important in the minds of the average non-writer, and expecting that to change is unrealistic. In short, the book is largely a fantasy of how the workplace would be if a certain type of tech-writer was in charge.

In some ways, I rather enjoy the fantasy. After all, who wouldn't like to be universally respected by the people you work with, and to call many of the shots and to have your needs met?
However, I think that anyone who starts their first tech-writing job with the expectation that it will be (or should be, or can be made to be)like the process Hackos advocates is likely to face either massive disillusionment or else terminal frustration. Even worse, they will be disillusioned without, in many cases, doing their job any better.

I still have, I think Hackos' Managing Your Documentation Projects in the cupboard above the scanner. But I couldn't be sure without checking, and I suspect that it's been pushed to the back of the shelf. It's been at least three years since I opened the book.

Bruce Byfield 604.421.7177 bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com

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Re: What is the maturity level of your publication process?: From: Andrew Plato

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