The U.S. federal tax instructions

Subject: The U.S. federal tax instructions
From: "Ben Kovitz" <bkovitz -at- nethere -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 1 Jul 2002 09:45:24 -0700

Another example of good technical writing is the instructions for
filling out the U.S. federal income tax forms.

Most people think they're boring and unnecessarily difficult, but I
think they're remarkably usable for the complexity and unpleasantness of
the task they describe. I suspect that most people's hatred of the tax
instructions derives from their hatred of paying taxes, keeping records,
figuring all those numbers, etc. The instructions are the most
*visible* thing to hate, so they catch most of the hatred.

To appreciate the tax instructions, you have to think how much *worse*
they could be. I think that in the hands of less-than-stellar technical
writers, the task would be much more unpleasant and people would make
even more errors. The potential for ambiguity and confusion in these
tricky little calculations is astounding. And just think how broad the
audience is.

(I think the formats have gotten a bit clumsier over the last few years,

Ben Kovitz
Author, Practical Software Requirements: A Manual of Content & Style

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