Astoundingly good technical writing: Who Is Fourier?

Subject: Astoundingly good technical writing: Who Is Fourier?
From: "Ben Kovitz" <bkovitz -at- nethere -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 3 Jul 2002 08:54:28 -0700

This book isn't what we usually think of as technical writing, but if
you want your mind stretched by some very unorthodox but effective
writing techniques, take a look at:

Who Is Fourier?

This book explains the rather intimidating mathematical topic of Fourier
series: how to calculate Fourier coefficients, the Fast Fourier
Transform, etc. It assumes no prior mathematical background. A
nine-year-old could follow this book with no trouble. Since you need to
know calculus to understand Fourier series, it teaches you the basics of
differentiation and integration. You need to understand trig functions,
so it explains those, too.

The book was written by the Transnational College of LEX, a group in
Japan that studies language. Because it's written in a style suitable
for children, some audiences wouldn't stand for it (namely, stuffy
adults). I think it's some of the most magnificent, astounding
technical writing ever. It shows that even the most abstruse and
profound mathematical ideas, even complex numbers and Euler's formula
(included!), can be made simple and comprehensible. And without dumbing
down the subject. This is the real deal.

One interesting lesson about tutorial writing that I took from the book
is just how tiny each step can be. I've believed in tiny, concrete
activities as the most fundamental teaching method for a long time now,
but this book showed me that you can push tininess and concreteness even
further than I'd imagined, and get amazing results. Even if you don't
write children's materials, this book will probably give you all sorts
of ideas for your own tutorial writing. Highly recommended! Also,
you'll understand Fourier analysis.

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

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