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Yes, I agree, and well, yes, this is probably an old notion, but it seems like there's very little support for backstory or the "why" these days, and everything is about getting the user on their way. Maybe that's the fault of minimalism, who knows.
All I remember are those big, fat, luscious aftermarket manuals of the 90's, and how much fun they were to read. I could sit with one of those for hours. I really felt like I was learning something. Nowadays I don't really feel like I'm learning anything by using software. Maybe that's just because we've all caught up, and the only thing left is to use the tool for what it's intended for.
But I've heard this lament before. Tech writing is really a different beast from what I remember. I guess the computer field was still young and we were still learning how computers worked. Now we know how they work, we know how software works, it's just, what the heck can you do with it.
From: McLauchlan, Kevin [mailto:Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com]
Sent: Monday, October 28, 2013 1:38 PM
To: Janoff, Steven; techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: tableT woes (was RE: Using tables for content
I'd go for your option "(d)".
In most cases, I like to give them some info, up front, so they have an idea of what they are doing and why, and then give clear instructions to actually DO it, which one could hope might reinforce the understanding with a bit of positive reinforcement (success at the task). So, I'm hoping that next time they have to do this (whatever) task, they either do it on their own because they understand and the steps are [now] obvious, or they at least breeze through because they know where they're going, and why.
From: Janoff, Steven [mailto:Steven -dot- Janoff -at- ga -dot- com]
Sent: October-28-13 2:53 PM
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com; McLauchlan, Kevin
Subject: RE: Using tables for content
That's a good assessment.
Makes you wonder why there are so few studies in our field that we can rely on.
If I try to think of "landmark works" in our field or milestone studies (if you can call them that), I can only think of a few, like minimalism from John Carroll, Information Mapping from Robert Horn, maybe the development of DITA, and maybe one or two that escape me right now.
Software and computer use has changed so much in the last 20 years (tablets, etc.), that you wonder if any of the studies from the 80's and 90's would hold up.
The UX field might hold some answers but they seem concerned about other things these days. I think you're right about what our interest is.
You know, actually, I'm not sure I fully understand what our purpose is as tech writers -- which might sound odd because I've been one for so long. But is it, as you say, (a) to get the reader to successfully complete the task for which they are reading the instructions, or is it (b) to impart learning so that the reader might be able to perform subsequent similar tasks without having to consult the help, or is it (c) something else, or (d) some combination. It might be that the conflict is in this immediate goal (solve the problem at hand) versus the larger goal (educate the person). My interest has always been to educate, but of course I have to write to get them to solve the immediate problem at hand. I wonder what the value is of one versus the other. Is it *worth* trying to educate the user, or should you just "get them on their way"?
Thanks for percolating that notion. Now I have something to think about while I get the user on their way... :)
[snippety (for length)]
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