Re: There's more to it than grammar

Subject: Re: There's more to it than grammar
From: Johndan Johnson-Eilola <johndan -at- PURDUE -dot- EDU>
Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 09:55:40 -0500

At 9:30 AM -0500 3.15.99, Wing, Michael J wrote:

> In the example of the resume wizard, I feel that it is appropriate
> for the writer to explain the results of the options (and combinations,
> thereof) that the wizard presents. It is inappropriate for the writer to
> tell the user what is or is not a great resume for that user.

I agree that this can be an incredibly complex task--but it's not
insurmountable; we teach the very basics to our business writing and tech
writing students in a class period. I would be the first to agree that we
can't replace teachers with software in many cases, I also think that we
need to start to investigating these issues in a broader way than we
currently do.

We could, for example, integrate basic material on screen design and
speaking techniques into presentation software: the help wouldn't need to
offer universal solutions to every situation, but it could provide rules of
thumb or heuristics.

Although it's not absolutely clear that users want that sort of information
(I can't think of anything more annoying than that damn dancing Macintosh
icon in the corner of Office 98 apps, offering me tech tips), the large
market for third-party manuals--which more frequently integrate functional
instructions into doc modules--seems to indicate that there's at least
*some* user interest in this.

A different way of looking at the question would be, Where do we, as tech
communicators, locate expertise? Too frequently, I think, we locate it
anywhere but in ourselves and our work--common definitions lend power to
the technology, to the technician/engineer/programmer, or to the user. But
it seems to me that we're in the perfect position to bring all of that
information together in a specific, concrete situation and provide users
with powerful forms of learning. Why, to continue with the resume wizard
example, *shouldn't* a tech communicator feel competent to help a user
understand why they would choose one resume format over another? Are the
formats different merely to offer variety, or are there reasons behind
constructing each in a certain way for a certain situation? Why might a
user want to put their employment before their education? What are the
potential rhetorical effects of choosing a script font over a sans serif?

All of this relates back to conceptions of documentation that separate out
work space from help space--I think in general such approaches are useful
for understanding different users, I wonder if we're making the conceptual
divisions between the two less permeable than they should be.

- Johndan

- Johndan Johnson-Eilola
Director of Professional Writing
Department of English voice: 765.494.3772
Purdue University <mailto:johndan -at- purdue -dot- edu>
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1356 <>

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