Reading books vs. asking questions?

Subject: Reading books vs. asking questions?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2002 09:50:15 -0500

Chris Knight reports that we <<... would do well to remember that "reading
books is rarely the way to learn quickly.>>

Ah, but "quick" and "well" aren't always the same thing. I read an apalling
amount of stuff, in a wide variety of subject areas, to keep the facts
flowing in so I have a basis for my opinions. (What? You thought I was just
making it up as I went along? <g>) I don't for a moment consider even really
good books to represent the final evolution of learning technology, but
they're a pretty remarkable tool for all their limitations (e.g., no
interactivity, inability to change the level of complexity on the fly for
different readers).

<<Asking questions is.>>

Certainly, but think of it this way: A book or journal article or newspaper
story is your way of getting information when you can't talk to the author
or a comparably bright expert. Given how often that's the case, books are
often the next best thing. Asking questions is obviously important too,
because few of us have the time to read everything we want, and because
asking an expert is often much faster than consulting the book. Witness
techwr-l, for example.

So the bottom line is, as always, as you noted: <<Of course, our
organizations can't actually talk with everyone who may have
questions, so we still need books.>> Of course, one distinction neither of
us made thus far is the difference between user manuals and textbooks, and
between magazines and journals. Different media for different purposes!

You also noted: <<It seems to me, however, that we should systematically
look for ways to make our writing *resemble* or *support* a
question-and-answer approach.>>

That can help, and as Internet technologies such as the Jeeves technology
(http://www.ask.com/) mature, you'll see more natural-language query tools
evolving. Some day, you may even see books replaced by databases of
information, with the information provided by experts and the book generated
on the fly in response to our questions. But we're not even close to being
there yet.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at
www.raycomm.com/techwhirl/usersadvocate.html

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a
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