Boring Discussions/Setting Expectations

Subject: Boring Discussions/Setting Expectations
From: Karyl Severson <karyl -at- PLAZA -dot- DS -dot- ADP -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 18 Dec 1995 14:06:57 -0800

Dear Tech Writers -

I believe I understand why some list contributors are surprised to find
discussions on this list to be boring. From the first time I subscribed
to the list, I was wondering if I had the right place -- is this for
editors of technical communication, or developers of that communication?
The two functions are related but quite distinct.

Correct me if I am mistaken, but I believe there is at least one other
list for editors/technical editors. That is the place where I would
expect to find discussions of grammar, syntax, styles -- in short the
kind of thing discussed in your company's Style Guide, and in great
length in books by people like Kate Turabian, the MLA Style Guide,
the AP Style Guide, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the Handbook of
Technical Writing. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of books available
in hard copy and online presenting conflicting and/or agreeing opinions
on language usage.

I suspect that opinions about correct language usage are as varied and
can be as heated as political opinions. Dozens of such opinions are
expressed on this list weekly. However, we are faced with much more
important challenges about how we communicate technical information.
We may have to give up an elegant turn-of-phrase to make the information
in it more accessible to the "average" user of the technical product.
In most cases, our documents are part of a product whole, whether it is
software, hardware, etc. We complain bitterly about the software
engineers who don't want to change wording on a user interface, yet we
do the same thing when it comes to wording in our manuals. Like it or
not, technology and our use of it has changed the way we use language.

And what about how we need to gear ourselves for the next wave of
information dispersal: WorldWideWeb, multimedia, true hypertext
documents? Using those media force us to question each sentence we
write. If we aren't questioning, we should ask why. People on this
list talk about how agreed-upon standards, such as dictionaries, take
a long time to catch up with spoken word usage. Faster communications
technology is making the gap between "what is used" and "what is standard"
even wider apart. If using a sentence fragment as a selection on a
HTML page is easier for my audience to understand, by golly, I'll use it
and know that I made the best technical communication decision for that
requirement. ^^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Things that I would find NOT tedious or boring as discussion topics for
this list are:

(1) good courses/books/sources for learning how to communicate
with the new Internet technologies

(2) effective ways to link and cross link documents that will be put online

(3) psychology of learning (cognitive psychology)

(4) usability of technical documents (online and paper)

I want to learn about these things because I expect to be practicing in
technical communication for another 15-20 years, and I want my language to
keep up with the media presenting it.



Karyl Severson
Technical Writer, Product Development
ADP Dealer Services, Portland, OR, USA
* Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you *
* nothing. It was here first. *
* -- Mark Twain *

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