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William Spencer McCrary wrote, in reference to a proposed scientific article on
"Why most manuals do not work":
>Am I the only person asking these questions or am I being nitpicky
No William, you're not being nitpicky at all, although I think we should give
the doctor the benefit of the doubt. I do have a problem with the premise that
"most" manuals don't work. Any properly trained beginning technical writer
understands that superlatives and unmeasurable values have no place in a
technical or scientific document. I am interested in what research has been
conducted that validates the conclusion that "most don't work." The doctor
should probably rephrase that to say, "Why some manuals don't work" or "Why
many manuals may not work."
I also have a problem understanding the phrase "don't work." What does that
mean? Does the doctor equate "don't work" to poorly written? I would certainly
never deny that there are plenty of poorly written manuals in the world. Lord
knows there are plenty of reasons for that. But having been in the business of
writing manuals for nearly fifteen years, I would certainly never conclude that
"most" manuals do not work. My company, for example, has a pretty good
reputation for its documentation. Most of our customers think our docs work
very well, thanks. There is no way anyone can reasonably testify that a manual
does not work unless he or she understands the purpose and intended audience of
the manual. If someone who is not the intended audience reads a manual and
cannot understand it, do we conclude that the manual does not work? I think not.
Speaking directly to the doctor, I would like to say that I do not want to jump
to conclusions about you or what you are trying to do. However, I think a
dialogue would be useful, provided you are truly interested in gathering data.
Is it your premise that most manuals don't work? If so, what do you mean by
"don't work" and what measurements have you made? Have you already drawn a
conclusion and are now gathering data to support it? Or, is this just a
magazine assignment you have accepted but don't have any real background on the
subject? I think we can reasonably assume that since you are looking for
sources, you have not already done a whole lot of research. Have you ever
worked as a technical manual writer? What are you a doctor of? Have you
actually studied the why's and how's of technical documentation? This list
would be a great forum to hash out this sort of issue.