Re: Contractions and Information Mapping

Subject: Re: Contractions and Information Mapping
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Sun, 30 Jun 1996 10:24:00 EST

At 12:17 PM 6/30/96 +0200, you wrote:

>I recently worked for a company that forbade
>contractions. The philosophy was that it's
>easier to forbid them altogether than to police
>the borderline between using them judiciously and
>overusing them. You don't want a manual
>that says something like "By the time you've
>finished a sentence, the grammar checker'll've
>gone over your previous one."

>Where writers vary in proficiency, departments
>may sometimes need to save time and friction
>by standardizing in a way that does keep
>the best writers from doing their best.
>Is that where Information Mapping
>too fits in?

Uh, no. That's tantamount to saying that we need to standardize on a
mediocre methodology to ensure excellence. In most parts of a business,
there is indeed a need to standardize, even if that standardization is
rather restrictive. Then exceptions are made for extraordinary
circumstances. The bigger the company, the greater the need for straitjackets.

We, however, have a built-in, time-honored methodology for ensuring standard
usage and conformity. It's called an "editor." If a techdoc department is
using writers that vary in proficiency rather far below the generally
accepted levels for performance, then somebody did a bad job in hiring and
needs to whip out the pad of pink slips. Nobody seriously maintains that an
engineering department needs to have a plodding and restrictive standard to
accomodate the the engineers that vary in proficiency. Hell, no. The usual
reaction is "If he can't do the job, then what's his degree worth?" And out
he goes. Or down he goes. Or up. Or whatever. But it's not an excuse for
in-built mediocrity.

Writers do need editors, however. Even the best of us do, and the very, very
best INSIST on being edited, at least by editors that can be trusted. And
that's how we keep standards uniform. First we set up style sheets, then we
appoint editors. And somewhere in there, we hire writers, not wannabes and
hangers-on. As I said originally, Info Mapping can turn a dismal writer into
a mediocre one. Fine and dandy. But what I didn't say, because it was
implied, is that HAVING a dismal writer in the first place is cause for
concern. Info Mapping can work moderately well for those who don't write for
a living. If you write for a living, IMHO you need to aspire to a much
higher working standard than Info Mapping. I have no problem with those who
learn the Info Map precepts and then go on to supplement them eternally, as
I do and as many others do as well. My beef is that too many people take the
expensive Info Mapping courses, go back to the jobs they've done badly as
techdoc'ers originally, then do mediocre work forevermore. That's not

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

Makers of DuoFrame, giving you online help and paper
documentation from a single parent FrameMaker document.

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