Re: Mea Culpa, All Ye Dummies

Subject: Re: Mea Culpa, All Ye Dummies
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Tue, 1 Oct 1996 09:40:00 EST

><Lots of excellent case study reluctantly snipped>

>Boy, if I ever had to force my finger to push "Delete," it was over the
text of this message. I'm going to save this story.

>>Maybe saying that something is "for Dummies" makes it sound easy,
>>but "for the discouraged" might be more accurate. That has always
>>been my policy; thus far, it's worked.
>>- Moshe

>I would add, however, that there's yet another aspect to the "dummies"
style, and it's why most people can't write that way.

>The "dummies" style isn't so much about "Now let's get comfortable...",
it's about putting a constant stream of technical material into a format
that feels like being taught by your best buddy. That's a formidable task
and most writers can't do it. I refer you to Woody Leonhard's books on Word
for examples. Leonhard shoves the reader through Word's deepest mysteries so
fast that you don't stop to consider his folksy style. It's like being
taught at high speed by Tim Allen. Gookin, Kaufeld, et al have the gift, but
few do. Most fake it by inserting cutesy statements about "Let's get
comfortable..." and so forth in between pedantic and sketchy paragraphs.
That sounds condescending. But when the material fires at you while you
read, it's intuitively obvious to the reader that he's not being
condescended, merely coached. Few coaches use big words and formal sentence

>Perhaps a single example will show you what I mean. In Leonhard's book
"Hacker's Guide to Word for Windows," he talks about the macros "AppMove"
and "AppSize." He says:

>"Both of these commands use the measurement "points per logical inch." Say
again? Yes, it's stupid. A logical inch of screen space is defined by the
video driver you are using. A standard VGA driver uses 96 pixels per logical
inch, so a 640X480 screen is 6.667 inches wide. Got that? At 72 points per
inch, a screen is about 480 points wide. Got that? It gets worse:..."

>That I don't find condescending, but mostly because he assumes I'm bright
enough to follow him if only he breaks things down well enough. It's like
being taught over a beer, or like having a brilliant but eccentric, clownish
expert at your elbow.

Tim Altom
Vice President, Simply Written, Inc.
317.899.5882 (voice) 317.899.5987 (fax)
FrameMaker support ForeHelp support
FrameMaker-to-HTML Conversions
HTML Help Consulting and Production

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