Re: Do I have to understand the material?

Subject: Re: Do I have to understand the material?
From: "Paul Strasser" <paul -dot- strasser -at- windsor-tech -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 16 Aug 2002 08:37:49 -0600

Doc wrote, in part:

>>>>We don't pick information out of the stack. We find out what the user
how the user does it, maybe even why the user does it. Then we try to
duplicate it using the software or hardware. In other words we stand in for
the user, pre-testing the software and trying to fill in the gaps between
what the programmer did and what the user wants.

We are advocates for the programmer, nor for the code. We are advocates for
the product...Our job is to keep the user using the product after they have
spent their
money on it and after they have discovered that the programmers may know how
to program and design a glitzy interface but they don't know a damn thing
about the user's job...
To do that we don't need to read code, we need to read user's, we need to
understand their jobs.

To the extent that you are discussing User's Guides for software, I agree
wholeheartedly. The user doesn't give a fig about elegant code. They just
want to get the job done. One of my jobs here is surrogate user, and "I
don't get it" is one of my favorite comments to the programmers. (That's
said from the user's perspective - I know what the programmers are trying to
do, but I want to force the programmers and screen designers to actually
consider usability every now and then.)

But there's a lot of tech writing out there that isn't for software.
Letoured's examples were one type. And I'm working on some writing that
none of you could write, simply because none of you are experts in this
area - and expertise is more important than writing style. These are
"briefing notes" for naturalists at Old Faithful. A few folks, including
yrs.trly., are writing extremely detailed papers about what new naturalists
need to know about some of the geysers, so they can impart this wisdom to
the visitors on nature walks and other visitor contacts. The briefing notes
I wrote for a single geyser complex was over 13 single-spaced pages. And
there's one geyser group whose notes are giving me fits - it's so damned
complicated, and has changed so dramatically in the last few years, that
I've started about eight different versions of this set of notes. And I'm
one of the world's experts on this damned geyser group....

This is stuff you can't fake, can't look up in a book somewhere, or ask an
SME. You either know it (via years of field work) or you don't. In fact,
this is the sort of writing that will be the "let's look it up" references
in the future. Hey, I guess that makes ME the SME.

The fact that my briefing notes for them (done without compensation, if it
matters - glad to do it) are clever, well-written, and easy to understand is
just a bonus :) They needed geyser experts. Lucky for them one is also a
tech writer.

Anyway -- Some of us seem to think that our ability to talk to SMEs, play
with Google, and are very creative chaps who ask good questions can
compensate for lack of expertise. Like I said in an earlier post, sometimes
this is true. But sometimes it's completely untrue, and the ramifications
can be more dire than something as inconsequential as a naturalist giving
out inaccurate information in front of a particular hole in the ground.

Paul Strasser
Windsor Technologies, Inc.
2569 Park Lane, Suite 200
Lafayette, Colorado 80026
Phone: 303-926-1982
FAX: 303-926-1510
E-mail: paul -dot- strasser -at- windsor-tech -dot- com


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Re: MOVIE REVIEW: K19: The Widowmaker: From: Randall Larson-Maynard

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