Re: That's Entertainment!

Subject: Re: That's Entertainment!
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Thu, 27 Jun 1996 13:26:00 EST

At 10:16 AM 6/27/96 U, you wrote:
>Forgive me for being a fuddy duddy, but I don't believe that good
>documentation need be "entertaining." I know that the "XXX for Dummies" books
>have made a fortune being entertaining, but they are addressed to a
>non-technical audience that needs humor to maintain interest and allay
>technophobic anxieties. This is a valid approach *for that type of audience*,
>but for most computer-related audiences it would be inappropriate.

Middle ground, middle ground! I don't think anybody is maintaining that
documentation has to substitute for Gilligan's Island, but much of it is
created with the express idea that techdoc is only for looking up
information, like using the dictionary. Much of it isn't. It's often
necessary to communicate concepts, rather than just to list them, and for
that purpose some small amount of human-ness is needed. Humans don't learn
by being given a boxcar-string of facts. They learn by having concepts
presented in the order of familiarity and in a friendly environment. A
writer must anticipate that order and environment and work accordingly.
Journalists, even ones that work for scientific and technical publications,
have known this principle for a long time. Readers learn best when they're
being TALKED TO rather than having the material flung at them like spaghetti
thrown against a wall, as Info Mapping advocates.

This presupposes that the purpose of the document is transfer of concepts,
rather than transfer of facts. These are two distinct purposes and call for
two different approaches. I merely maintain that while Info Mapping is
usually adequate for fact transfer, it's far less than ideal for concept
learning. It's the difference between tutoring and college lectures.

Tim Altom
Vice President, Simply Written, Inc.
317.899.5882 (voice) 317.899.5987 (fax)
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