Re: Philosophy: the Aim of Technical Comms?

Subject: Re: Philosophy: the Aim of Technical Comms?
From: James Owens <ad354 -at- FREENET -dot- CARLETON -dot- CA>
Date: Tue, 30 Apr 1996 13:54:19 GMT

Stuart Burnfield (slb -at- fs -dot- com -dot- au) writes:

> Is this a fair summary of the best approach to technical communication,
> including tech writing and user interface design:

> "the greatest good of the greatest number"

> How else do you decide what to put in and what to leave out?

The usual criticism of utilitarianism is that it fails to address the
question, "What is good?"

In technical writing, *_for a given individual_*, should you provide the
least possible information needed to get going right away, or should you
provide that _and_ various notes for greater control over non-essentials
(like bell pitch in a database), or should you provide all this and
supplementary information that helps the user understand more deeply what
he or she is doing?

The fact is that for any user there are a number of "goods" -- ease of
use, degree of control, depth of understanding; screen readability, number
of available controls, number of menu levels, product simplicity;
portability of files, accessibility of raw data, integration of
applications -- and they are sometimes in conflict. It's like the sign in
a graphics shop I once frequented: "SPEED! QUALITY! PRICE! -- PICK TWO."

James Owens ad354 -at- Freenet -dot- carleton -dot- ca
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

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