Re: Never lead with a graphic

Subject: Re: Never lead with a graphic
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: Rebecca Hopkins <rebecca_hopkins -at- comcast -dot- net>
Date: Tue, 08 Jul 2008 14:30:21 -0700

Rebecca Hopkins wrote:

> I'm just arming myself for the inevitable conversation with the boss.

Reconsider your choice of weapons! You need to be armed with some
understanding of the underlying cognitive issues, in this case that you
may be a visual learner. Not everyone prefers visual information--your
boss might not, and the rule about picture placement might be in
deference to the people who have more verbal learning strategies.

You're in good company either way--our species seems to be split about
50/50 in our preference.

I read somewhere recently (I think it was in the "Brain Rules" book, see
below) that some thinking styles are emphatically non-verbal. According
to the author, people who are non-verbal thinkers tend to concentrate in
jobs where abstraction is important, for example in engineering
disciplines, where models and drawings are used to explore and represent
ideas and design. My own thought is that these jobs can teach you to
think that way, but that doesn't change anything, does it?

I think these difference in how we learn and think about complexity
could be generalized into one or more issues in technical writing. In
the simplest sense, it points to issues that arise when we and our cow
orkers in development and engineering have a preference for non-verbal
and visual thinking and learning, while our management is not
necessarily "technical" or even cut from the same cloth as the technical
staff. At a deeper level, it might explain why tech writers are needed
at all (to put back into words the products of engineering).

Ideally, we focus our energy on the audience for our documentation, not
on our management or our own preferences as individuals. But when you
don't already know that your audience is overwhelmingly more interested
in visual documentation, then I think it makes sense to follow the
conventions expected by readers, for whom illustrations are treated as
support for information found in the text, and would not be found
preceeding the relevant text. The visual learners will skip the text
anyway, so make sure your illustrations serve their needs too.

About "Brain Rules", it has useful insight, and is available in a
multimedia edition. See for more info.

Good luck!

Ned Bedinger
doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com

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RE: Never lead with a graphic: From: Rebecca Hopkins

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