Re[2]: Using Humor Judiciously

Subject: Re[2]: Using Humor Judiciously
From: Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- COM
Date: Mon, 20 May 1996 14:57:00 -0600

I absolutely hate humor in documentation for software and/or hardware
products.

Humor is difficult to judge. Too many times it suffers from terminal
cuteness. For example, I hate the "x for Dummies" series. The kind of humor
that I've always enjoyed shows up in the examples, rather than the text. I
love it when you give me puns in the example text and file names.

Beyond the examples, about the only places humor can organically fit are in
the warnings and cautions. Face it, most error conditions can easily be
made the object of a joke. Just make sure you're ridiculing the computer,
not the user.

I think too often you have to strain to fit humor into the text, and
strained humor always fails (like most stews, humor is chunky). You need to
make it come naturally out of the situation you're describing. My all-time
favorite line from a user manual employed a small degree of humor. The
manual for a program called "hTest," a hard disk optimization and testing
package contained the sentence:

"While this operation should not damage the data on your hard drive in any
way, no sane person would try this without a backup."

Not only simple, clear and to-the-point, but "...no sane person..." makes
it memorable. Which is perfect for a warning.

Have fun,
Arlen
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
DNRC 124

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
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