About mil/heavy industries documentation standards (long)

Subject: About mil/heavy industries documentation standards (long)
From: "Broberg, Mats" <mabr -at- flir -dot- se>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 12 Feb 2004 10:41:48 +0100

Dear listmembers,

I am currently (and voluntarily, I might add!) reading AECMA's 2000 page
beheamoth "Spec 1000D", which many of you know is widely used for the
procurement and production of technical publications in the military
aerospace/aircraft community. It has also gained wide acceptance for
land and sea applications.

What strikes me as a bit odd - when reading this or other mil/heavy
industries specs is the following, about which it would be interesting
to hear your views and opinions:

When a large organisation (like AECMA, ATA, or any other
civilian/military organisation or body) sets out to create a
specification for the creation, maintenance and production of technical
documentation, why is such an infinitely small amount of effort put on
the part of the spec that defines how technical documentation complying
to this spec should look like when formatted as page-oriented output? I
know - page-oriented output may not have been AECMA's first intention
with the spec (rather IETP &c), but that is the way that many industries
use the spec anyway.

In Spec 1000D, all efforts seem to have been put on VM/CM, traceability,
CSDB issues, data module numbering and coding systems etc. While I would
agree that these issues are extremely important when creating a spec for
high-volume & long life-cycle documentation, in the end someone will
actually read the publications formatted according to the spec.

This is where the problem begins.

After having read Chapter 6: "Information presentation & use", it is
clear that the working group has had an extremely shallow understanding
of how to use typography and graphic design as a method for making
technical documentation as readable as possible, and that many ideas and
concepts are actually inherited from a rather peculiar "type-writer
design thinking". One shudders a bit when reading about eight levels of
headings, line feeds (sic!), ragged right-hand edges, tables without
grids etc. Don't take me wrong - I am not in any way a proponent of a
spec that would define some kind of glossy design-intensive & colorful
output. After all, when designing high-volume/long life-cycle
documentation a different thinking is required compared to designing a
manual for the latest Ericsson cellphone. But it could have been so much

Why, I ask myself, do not these standardization bodies put more effort
on the issue of presentation? Why is it so incredibly unfairly treaded?
Why do they not invite information specialists, typographers, IM
specialist, text cognition researchers, typeface experts, designers?
Why? After all, creating such a spec is multi-million dollar project.
Why were so few dollars spent on these issues?

These specs are used often used for maintaining and producing extremely
important & critical information - information that now and then is
literally the difference between life and death for men and women on
hostile grounds. It strikes me as unfathomably shortsighted not to have
spent more money, time and efforts on these things.

OK, I'm down from the soapbox!

Mats Broberg

Technical Documentation Manager
FLIR Systems


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