documenting error messages

Subject: documenting error messages
From: Susan Fowler <sfowler -at- EJV -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 16 Oct 1995 12:47:01 EDT

Re. Sara Mutton's suggestion, "You also might start collecting material on how
to write error messages and GUIs and dropping them conspiciously on the
keyboards of developers when they are away from their desks."

The GUI Style Guide has an entire chapter on writing messages--error, notes,
hazard, audio, what have you. The book as a whole is designed to help companies
make their GUIs more professional.

Let me back up a step: Victor Stanwick and I (both of us tech. communicators)
wrote the book for exactly the situations described in this thread. We were
both sick to death of fixing the interface in the documentation. We wanted to
help make it possible for fellow tech communicators to fix the interface
directly, either hands-on using the various GUI development systems or by
educating the developers.

Developers, by the way, are often so busy writing the code that runs the
underlying processes that they are happy to hand off the interface design to
human factors people and writers--provided that we sound like we know what
we're doing. (Some authors say that interface development takes up 50-60% of
development time. This seems high to me--as if there are no screen painters and
the developers have to create buttons and menus from scratch. Anyone have other

It may be that taking on window development is impossible within set deadlines
and budgets. On the other hand, spending time to create an easily documented
interface may be more time- and cost-effective than struggling with the
hard-to-document interface.....

Hope this helps.

--Susan Fowler
co-author, The GUI Style Guide
Academic Press Professional, 1995
ISBN 0-12-263590-6

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