Re: Consequences of inadequate docs/training

Subject: Re: Consequences of inadequate docs/training
From: Ken Stitzel <kstitzel -at- enginuityinc -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 28 Mar 2002 10:43:59 -0700

Interesting discussion of deadliness and documentation. I thought I would
contribute because the list recently helped me solve an issue with these
kind of notices in my documents. (Thanks, all.)

I'm no expert on tech writing history, but wasn't much of the research on
procedure writing developed in and around and because of WW II and post-WWII
projects for training soldiers?

Here's an analogy from the oil-and-gas pipeline industry. I document stuff
related to LARGE industrial engines (house-sized or larger). The complete
maintenance manual for an entire engine warns of a number of deadly things
you can do. There are several levels of notices: Note (important information
for system operation), Caution (possibility of equipment damage or personal
injury), Warning (possibilility of sever personal injury or death), and
Danger (WILL cause severe injury or death). For example:

"DANGER: Do not cut or break open sodium cooled exhaust valves. Contact with
sodium will cause severe personal injury or death." Then there is a brief
note about proper disposal. (This is pressurized hot molten sodium, I guess.
Not exactly table salt.)

There is a brief safety overview in the front. The Danger notices are
presented fairly matter-of-factly where appropriate throughout the text.
Graphic conventions make the more dangerous notices more prominent, but they
are fairly straightforward using standard ANSI icons, no exotic
skull-and-crossbones stuff. The folks using this manual will obviously have
to have experience and training to be allowed near the engines. We can only
hope it's likewise for military stuff!

Simon North wrote:

> It's been said that a USN frigate would sit several inches higher in the
water if the documentation were removed.

This is supposedly a fact. I used to document a product that let you search
and list the USN parts database via CDROMs. My boss told me Navy figures
showed that for a destroyer the weight of the on-board printed documentation
(several tons) would actually affect the performance of the ship. Gettting
as much documentation as possible onto CDs thus became quite attractive to
the Navy.

Aside: re the apocalyptic finale of "Platoon," I suppose there are some
doomsday scenarios when you might want to call in an air strike on you own
position. (Yeesh!)

Special thanks to all you veterans, past and present. (I have two young
cousins stationed in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan just now.)

Ken Stitzel
Volt Integrated Solutions Group, on assignment to Enginuity, Inc., Ft.
Collins, CO, USA

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