RE: huh?

Subject: RE: huh?
From: "Mark Baker" <mbaker -at- ca -dot- stilo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 8 May 2003 13:17:30 -0400

> -------------------------------
> Janice Gelb wrote:
> Some people even argue that in some circumstances (mostly
> end-user products) it's better if editors *don't* have extensive
> knowledge of the subject matter as they then are more likely to
> approach the material as a user would.
> -------------------------------
> Huh? Really? I don't get it. Could anyone who actually believes
> this please send me an email explaining the reasoning behind such
> a thing?

There is a persistent belief in the TW community that the average user is
inexperienced and ignorant of the product they have bought. I suppose this
is a product of the late lamented tech boom when we were all suddenly buying
and using our first word processor, our first spreadsheet, etc. But it is
not the normal state of things. People mostly buy things of a type they are
familiar with, whose functions and use they know well.

The myth of the ignorant editor and the myth of the ignorant writer are both
derived from the myth of the ignorant user. I'm not convinced it had merit
even in the days when a high percentage of users were ignorant. But the
period in which the ignorant user was the norm has certainly passed.

Of course, the myth of the ignorant user is important to the TW community
and you can expect them to continue to promote it vigorously. That myth
keeps documentation volumes up, and high documentation volumes keep tech
writers in jobs. However, myths are myths and they don't survive long in
commodity markets where cost is king. We can expect documentation volumes to
continue to fall and tech writers to continue to face employment pressure.

Ordinary consumer products don't require high documentation volumes because
users are experienced, and inexperienced users can rely on the help of a
large population of experienced users to help them. The products of the high
tech age have now become ordinary consumer products sold to knowledgeable
consumers who don't need extensive docs, or any docs at all. The ignorant
user is a thing of the past, and the ignorant writer/editor have no more
excuse for their ignorance.

The commoditization of consumer-oriented high tech means that any future
growth in tech writer jobs is going to come in more specialized sectors
where the ignorant writer/editor argument will be a complete non starter.

Mark Baker
Senior Technical Writer
Stilo Corporation
1900 City Park Drive, Suite 504 , Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1J 1A3
Phone: 613-745-4242, Fax: 613-745-5560
Email mbaker -at- ca -dot- stilo -dot- com

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huh?: From: Sean Hower

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