Re: Rant continued from previous page (was Re: Another Word guru question)

Subject: Re: Rant continued from previous page (was Re: Another Word guru question)
From: "Mike Starr" <mike -at- writestarr -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 11 Feb 2007 02:58:12 -0600

I'm deeply sorry to hear about the incident you described. As I said in one of my previous posts on the topic, if I thought there was ANY possibility that serious harm or lethal results could occur, I'd approach these sorts of things with a lot more caution (and yes, in some circumstances, I might feel that it was important to include "Continued..." markings on tables). However, for the vast majority of documentation, I maintain they're a silly notion.

The target audiences for the documents I've created have almost always been, at a minimum, generally educated non-specialists. With that level of education I assume that the reader is astute enough to negotiate the document that I've carefully crafted whilst taking into consideration what they might reasonably be expected to know and understand. I respect my audience too much to treat them like they need to have their hands held and be led by the nose on every page. If I happen to create a document that might somehow need to be used by the booted and unhorsed, I'd adjust accordingly.

However, you bring up a point of how do we accommodate those cases where a single page of a document is somehow separated from the rest of the document. I'd suggest that if a single page were printed or photocopied, it probably wouldn't make much difference if the table in question had a continuation indicator... the reader probably wouldn't have access to the rest of the document anyway.

Another concept to consider (and I admit to not being totally sure where I stand on the issue) is the "Use as directed" approach. Merck or Pfizer or any number of pharmaceutical companies produce any number of medications that can have seriously harmful effects or even cause death if not used in an appropriate manner. They take responsibility for delivering them with instructions in the original packaging. Once the packaging is opened and the contents separated from the instructions, their liability ends. My libertarian inclinations say that at some point, the consumer/user must accept a minimum level of responsibility... manufacturers can only do so much to prevent accidents and can only be held accountable for the documentation AS DELIVERED.

I remember a number of years ago, a guy decided that it would be so much simpler to use his lawn mower to trim his hedge. He lifted it up and started trimming his hedge, somehow lost control of it and now is fully qualified for a position as harem guard. Was this a failure of the documentation or just another example of life in the shallow end of the gene pool? I'd suggest the latter.

Mike Starr WriteStarr Information Services
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----- Original Message -----

From: Geoff Lane <geoff -at- gjctech -dot- co -dot- uk>
Subject: Re: Rant continued from previous page (was Re: Another Word
guru question)

Please excuse the rant, but this topic is related to an incident that
could have cost one of my readers his life. The data in question gave
torque settings that were a default value unless otherwise specified,
and torque for a critical fastener was on the second page.

On Saturday, February 10, 2007, Mike Starr wrote;

Why on earth do we need to add "Continued..." to the top of each
additional page?

We need to add "Continued" to the top of each additional page to show
that it's incomplete. For that, we need to add "continued/.." at the
bottom of a page that is continued, and "../continued" at the top of
the continuation page so that the recipient of either page knows he's
not seeing the whole picture.

Do we think they're not going to turn the page and that the table
having the same headings on both pages is not going to clue them in
to the concept that there was too much stuff to fit on one page?

Unless no harm can come from a reader seeing only one of the pages, we
need to do it because the reader might not have access to both pages.
For example, if one page was printed from a PDF, or even a photocopy
of something only available to our audience in hardcopy. Now I've had
technical data for machinery misinterpreted from one of my manuals
because of this issue - and only by good fortune it wasn't fatal. Ever
since, I've used continuation markers unless the customer demands I
don't and is prepared to put that instruction in writing.

And if our readers are such clueless bowbs are they really the
target audience we want/need to serve? ... And no, I'm not picking
on Nancy in particular but on the misguided portion of the technical
writing community that seems to think this sort of thing is worth
spending time trying to accomplish.

We often can't pick our audience and if our tech writers are such
arrogant and myopic bowbs to believe that such devices are never
necessary ...

... and FWIW, I do think that time spent arranging my documents to
avoid possibly fatal misinterpretation is time very well spent.

(rant over)



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