RE: huh?

Subject: RE: huh?
From: Jean Hollis Weber <jean -at- jeanweber -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 09 May 2003 17:32:06 +1000

As someone else noted, most of the responses on this thread have been about _writers_, but Janice Gelb's comment (that Sean Hower asked about) was regarding _editors_. Gene Kim-Eng also observed, "I have traditionally satisfied any need for such a person by borrowing an
admin or other non-technical person already in the company to attempt to use my document to operate the equipment or software. I hardly ever encounter a situation where there's such a shortage of ignorance that I have to go out and hire it."

In my experience, the main difference with having documentation "usability tested" or "usability edited" by an experienced editor who knows the audience's subject domain (accounting, for example) but not the product being documented, and using someone else to fill that role, is that an editor is more likely to be able to ask specific questions or explain to the writer just what appears to be missing, or articulate the logical flaws, or otherwise make constructive solution-oriented comments, not just be confused or not understand. Gene's solution can be a good one, but (especially for backup on less-experienced or less-skilled writers) using an editor can be even better.

Janice later gave an example of what she meant. Here's another example. I've had experienced editors work on the books I've written. In some cases, the editor had no familiarity with the product at all (but was familiar with the concepts from the audience's point of view), but still did a good job of spotting (and explaining to me) what was missing in the draft. People more familiar with the product are far more likely to spot errors in what _is_ there, but far _less_ likely to spot what _isn't_ there. So both approaches can be quite valuable.

However, some levels of ignorance are not helpful. If editors don't know enough about the subject matter from the _audience's_ point of view, then they won't be able to spot some problems. If those editors _also_ don't know the product, they're reduced to being grammar police. Even worse, some of them end up attempting to convince the writer to make changes that are of no use to the audience at all, thus (at best) wasting everyone's time or (worse) making the documents less useful.

I call the useful type "strategic ignorance" -- a difficult concept to explain, especially since it's very situation-dependent.

Regards, Jean
Jean Hollis Weber
jean -at- jeanweber -dot- com
The Technical Editors' Eyrie


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