ADMIN: Observation about requesting assistance

Subject: ADMIN: Observation about requesting assistance
From: "Eric J. Ray" <ejray -at- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 6 Oct 1997 07:01:46 -0600

Tis the season again for university projects and presentations,
which means it's also likely the season again for multiple flames as
well as complaints about the list direction (intended for students or not).

Just to forestall that whole mess, here's my two cents.

TECHWR-L is for everyone who has anything to do with technical
communication, from teachers to students to practitioners. It's
only for people with a professional demeanor--regardless of
their status as students or teachers or whatever.

If you're asking for help--and for some reason this seems much
more important if you place the context as a student project--
do the following:

1) State what you're looking for. Be specific. ("I'm looking for
information about how best to use procedural steps in
computer documentation.")
2) State what you've done. ("I've been through our university library,
the last three years of Technical Communication, the last
two years of the IEEE-SIGDOC and STC conference proceedings,
and browsed through my advisor's bookshelves until he kicked
me out.")
3) State what you've found. ("Although I found a couple of articles
about the importance of using procedural steps as compared
to using bulleted lists, I didn't find anything about using
procedural steps well.")
4) State what you'd like to have. ("If anyone has any empirical studies
or anecdotes about effectively constructing procedural steps,
please send them to me offline. If you think they'd be of
general interest, reply on list.")

For some reason, and I'm not exactly sure why, self-declared students
who post questions that could or should be answered in a library tend
to be unmercifully flamed. Working technical writers also get flamed
on occasion for asking the same sort of questions, but it's not nearly as
brutal as for students.

Perhaps the reason is the idea that a working writer is
trying to get an answer by an arbitrary deadline and needs all the help
available, but a student trying to get an answer by an arbitrary deadline
should be following a fairly structured research process rather than
relying on the Internet to obviate the need for library research. Without
making it clear in the message that all the routine steps have already
been done, many people assume that the student hasn't done the legwork.

Not fair, true, but that's what usually plays out on TECHWR-L.


Eric J. Ray ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com
TECHWR-L Listowner

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