Re: Whither book "Developing Windows Error Messages"

Subject: Re: Whither book "Developing Windows Error Messages"
From: "E. Gail Miedema" <egail -at- TELEPORT -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 22 Dec 1998 17:08:13 -0800

As I see it, the publisher of this book has targeted the audience
correctly. Programmers do write the error messages in most cases, at least
the first draft of them. I see nothing wrong with developing a tool that
can be used by programmers to help them write messages that are coherent
and useful to the user.

E. Gail Miedema
Meridian Partners, Ltd.
On assignment at Microsoft

On Tue, 22 Dec 1998, Chuck Martin wrote:

> Fellow TECHWR-Lers,
> I just ran across this book ("Developing Windows Error Messages,"
> O'Reilly, ISBN 1565923561) and my jaw simply dropped in amazement. And
> not because I was pleased to see it. provides this as a book
> synopsis:
> "This book teaches C++ and Visual Basic programmers how to write
> effective error messages that notify the user of an error, clearly
> explain the error, and, most importantly, offer a solution to the error.
> The enclosed disk contains software that presents all error messages in
> a standard format as well as responses for different levels of errors."
> I have several issues with this, without even reading the book--and I'm
> not sure I even want to now.
> First, it's claimed target audience is programmers. Why, oh why, do the
> authors and publishers want to perpetuate the myth that programmers
> should be the ones to write error messages? While it would be nice for
> programmers to learn to communicate effectively with a non-technical
> audience, isn't that what we, as technical communicators, are trained to
> do?
> Second (and this is a more root issue), I'm a firm believer that error
> messages are bad. Bad, bad, bad. My classic example of this is on page
> 428 of the book "About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design"
> (by Alan Cooper, ISBN 1568843224). The illustration is of an error
> message that describes what error messages feel like to users. The text
> reads "It's obvious from your actions that you don't know jack squat
> about computers or software," and the 3 button labels read "I am not
> worthy," "Please kill me now," and "I should go back to pencil and
> paper." I agree with Cooper when he says that good software design will
> alleviate the need for nearly every possible error message. The
> existence of this new book gives an implied green light for programmers
> to continue to design bad software as long as the error messages are
> clear.
> I have been in situations (unfortunately, not my current one) where I
> have been actively involved in the design of the software interface, and
> one of my goals was not only to make the interface understandable, but
> to advocate design that would avoid error messages by not allowing the
> users to take actions that would result in errors.
> While I can see that the intentions of this book are good, I think it's
> ultimately a step backwards, both in terms of advancing software design
> principles and of technical communicators having a voice and a role in
> the software development process.
> --
> Chuck Martin
> Principal Technical Writer, Oracle Developer
> Tools Division, Oracle Corporation
> cwmartin"at"
> From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000==

E. Gail Miedema
13619 Mukilteo Speedway, D-5 #417
Lynnwood, WA 98037-1606

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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