Re: Concepts (was Technical Writing Tests)

Subject: Re: Concepts (was Technical Writing Tests)
From: Andrew Plato <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 14 Feb 2003 18:54:48 -0800 (PST)


"Jan Henning" wrote.

> IMHO they should be omitted to make better documentation
> - because documentation does not exist in a vacuum but is a tool for
> the reader.

I think that is a limited view of documentation. Its a traditional view. Docs
are tools, readers care only about raw "how do I do X" type information. Its
based on the assumption that the reader does not care at all about the
material.

And in some environments, I would agree. Big bureaucracies where people only
care to do the absolute minimum so they can get paid - yes. Those kind of
people however rarely read docs anyway. And when they do, they usually just
skim through and look at the pictures.

The people who actually read docs (in order) are:

1. Your boss
2. Your co-workers
3. Your competitors
4. Potential customers
5. Other tech writers looking to rip off your styles
6. Forced users
7. The curious
8. The honestly diligent reader

In other words, there are a lot of people who are reading docs for every OTHER
reason than how to do something.

Now, I think there is scales to this. And generally the less skilled/educated
the reader, the more simplistic the content has to be. And I would agree that
at the very end of that scale - the archetypal stupid government slob who
doesn't want to lift a finger will probably not care for conceptual material

But on the other side of that spectrum - professors, highly skilled people,
competitors. They'll read ever word you wrote. And the truly intelligent will
actually read beyond what you wrote and look for trends, themes, and hidden or
misleading messages.

So, audience does play a part. If your audience is generally unskilled morons,
then yeah, no need for concepts. But the more skilled your audience, the more
they are going to want to see that you (as in your company) know what they're
talking about.

And I can speak to this directly from the network security world. Top security
people aren't going to be fooled by fonts and great procedures. They demand to
see docs that demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of not only security
concepts, but also networking and system administration.

Andrew Plato

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