Redundancy - Necessary?

Subject: Redundancy - Necessary?
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 10:12:18 -0500

Carol Anne T. Wall wonders: <<If I wrote the following description: Woobbly
Factor Widgets only. Displays the percentage of woobblies.>>

Sounds like you've been talking to Jane Carnall again. Either that, or her
engineers have infected your engineers. <g>

<<would adding the following be redundant? Otherwise, this field and label
do not display.>>

The goal of documentation is to answer all the main questions your readers
will have. If someone sees the Woobly factor field one day, and uses it, but
the field's gone the next day, they're going to wonder what happened. That's
one of the obvious questions they'll ask. So you need to somewhere describe
why a field might be present and what to do when it's not. I wouldn't word
this information the way you did, because although the concept is helpful,
the wording is redundant. Instead, try something like: "If this field is not
available, it's probably because..." (you haven't selected widgets, you
don't have permission to work with widgets, etc.)

Consider the following example: I want to wooblify my widget, so I open the
correct dialog box, and immediately start looking for the woobly factor
field. It's gone! Darn! Why? RTFM! Ah... enlightenment dawns. The
documentation says this field is only for widgets, and upon closer
inspection, I discover that I've accidentally selected whatsits at the top
of the dialog box. D'oh! [Reaches for mouse, selects widgets... and trumpets
blare as the woobly factor field once more becomesavailable.] Thanks,
author! <g>

The moral: Redundancy has two meanings: unnecessary repetition, and helpful
repetition. Avoid the former kind, and promote the latter.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

Tarzan's rule of data processing: Never let go of one vine until you have a
solid hold of the next.--Anon.

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