Some thoughts on "Dummy" books, and HyperMedia

Subject: Some thoughts on "Dummy" books, and HyperMedia
From: Steve Owens <uso01 -at- EAGLE -dot- UNIDATA -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 25 Mar 1994 21:05:07 +0700

Hey all,

I was just burning a few hours late at work this friday night
(yeah, yeah, I know, but I didn't have anything else to do this
friday) trying to write up a quick in-house intro tutorial for a
hypermedia package we just started to use, called KMS (Knowledge
Management System).

Since this is an entirely unofficial, on-my-own-time project
for in-house users, mostly engineers whom I can presume to be rather
competent with computers, or willing to experiment and figure it out
themselves, this has been a rather refreshing experience - I can
ignore all of the rules for producing documentation and write in a
friendly, easy-going manner, much as I believe the "XYZ for Dummies"
series and other after-market books are written

This got me to thinkin' a bit (dangerous practice, that). On
some thought, manufacturer-produced documentation tends to be either:

1) very dry, reference-oriented, nuts 'n bolts, where you assume the
reader has the expertise (or will acquire it by reading the
accompanying user's guide) and is just delving for nuggets of
information, syntax, options, etc.

2) very comprehensive and "idiot-proofed", where you take the user
gently in hand and lead him or her down the garden path, and
you can't assume that the reader read the book, or even this
chapter, sequentially, so you don't leave stuff out.

This kind of writing, on the other hand, neither assumes total
competence, nor takes on the burden of total idiot-proofing. I wonder
if this approach creates different message, and if that message is
what makes the Dummies books and similar things so popular?

Think about it. Here I am writing a document, and I'm saying
(or I would if I wrote an introduction):

"I'm not assuming you know everything and giving you just the

Neither am I assuming you're an idiot and idiot-proofing
this document so I don't leave anything out so you could sue me for
lots of money for buying my product and shooting yourself in the foot.

I'm assuming you can keep up, but I'm setting an easy pace.
If you don't understand something, that doesn't mean you *are* an
idiot, it just means you may have skipped something, or you may not
have read the introductory section which gave you some core concepts,
or you may just need to read it once or twice - lord knows I've had to
read things more than once!"

And I wonder if that isn't a much less patronizing, more
friendly, more entertaining, more open way to write a document.

Steven J. Owens
uso01 -at- unidata -dot- com

P.S. By the way, KMS is an interesting package. Anybody else here
have any experiences with it?

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