Subject: Humor
From: "Higgins, Lisa R." <eilrh -at- EXCHANGE -dot- WCC -dot- ATT -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 22 May 1996 14:12:00 -0400

My one and only experience with a "Dummies" book was when I was
desperately looking for information on some little Unix tidbit that
wasn't covered in Unix in a Nutshell, so I borrowed a coworker's Unix
for Dummies, and found the term in the glossary. It said, "Oh, you don't
need to know THIS." or something of the sort.

Of course, they were wrong. I did need to know. That is why I looked it
up in the glossary. And based on an earlier post with an example of a
command whose only purpose is to make you feel like Captain Picard, it
seems that the "Dummies" brand of "humor" is at the expense of
information. I can think of few things more thoroughly revolting than to
jerk your users around like that; and if that's what sells their books,
somebody please shoot me.

On the other hand, I've found that one of the most effective approaches
to technical documentation is to keep a casual tone (when your audience
and your employer allow for it). It's almost always more readable, and
the material is "friendlier." Part of this is to let a little humor
creep in when it's appropriate. For the most part, mine has been limited
to "Easter eggs," such as little soap operas being played out in screen
examples, and extra glossary entries.

I'd say use some common sense. You know what's offensive and what's not.
Being "professional" (the windmill most TWs tend to be tilting at)
doesn't necessarily mean being an automaton. It can be just as important
to know when humor and colloquialisms are appropriate as it is to know
when to provide examples or definitions. Most TWs know how and when to
do it, but may just be afraid to.

That said, the person who wrote the previously mentioned "librarian
sounds like Conan the Barbarian" needs to find a new line of work.

Lisa Higgins
eilrh -at- ei -dot- att -dot- com

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