RE: Confesions of a Technical Writer (was: You're not the only pe rson who can write)

Subject: RE: Confesions of a Technical Writer (was: You're not the only pe rson who can write)
From: "Goldstein, Dan" <DGoldstein -at- DeusTech -dot- com>
To: "'techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 8 Feb 2004 22:12:46 -0500

Sean's story reminds me of the chapter entitled "Chromium" in Primo Levi's
marvelous collection, "The Periodic Table." Too long to recount here, but
the chapter retells similar stories about the dangers of blindly following
obscure instructions inherited from one's tech-writing predecessors. Highly
recommended reading.

Dan Goldstein

-----Original Message-----
From: Sean Wheller
Sent: 1/23/04 3:21 PM
I once send out a document in which I had purposely inserted an error of
The error said; "Repeat steps 1 through 24, twenty times, or until the
procedure is complete."
The book went through four revisions. Not one engineer, developer,
technician or customer ever noticed.
The procedure was correct, the English was fine. I had copied this procedure
directly from current and released Engineering notes. I had not checked the
procedure against the system, I trusted the Engineer. He was one of the
leading experts.
One day I sat down and tried the procedure for myself. To my horror I got
very lost. When I asked the Engineer about it, he also got lost...
Some weeks later, while digging in the engineering archive I came across a
document to a system that was no longer produced. I guess it caught my eye
because of the date and the fact that the meta-data showed it was
incorrectly classified. I opened it, so that I could determine where the
document should be placed.
Guess what I found. That's right. A 24 step procedure to loading the
configuration of a system. That system had been used as the basis for the
current system. Evidently, engineers had not bothered to check whether or
not this document actually matched the current spec and had happily made a
copy paste...


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