RE: Wish list for academic research

Subject: RE: Wish list for academic research
From: Jason Willebeek-LeMair <jlemair -at- cisco -dot- com>
To: Jane Bergen <jbergen1 -at- earthlink -dot- net>, TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 12:30:22 -0500

Yes, I was baiting you.

The problem I had with the academic research slant (and I DO value
academic research) on what makes a book good is that they only get
generalities, such as "Headings are good because they aid in navigation
and orientation within the text," which are a good beginning for making
a book good, but really don't tell me what I need to make MY book good
for MY audience.

What makes a good heading is what I am concerned with, and that depends
upon my audience. Specifics, like "use gerunds, don't use gerunds, use
complete sentences, number each level of heading, capitalize this or
that, this organization or format is superior to that one, use serifs,
don't use serifs" are simply too specific to apply to a general

This type of research rests squarely on the writer. If the writer does
not have access to the audience, then of course he/she/it must go by the
generalities (but would hopefully have access to any
complaints/commendations). Trust me, if you really annoy a user
(unintentionally, of course), they will let you know.

(In fact, this division between general guidelines and specific audience
preferences is probably the source of many of the holy wars on this
list. Just look at the "number single-step procedures" discussion.
Hello! Why don't you ask some of your readers? Use your marketing
department if don't know any personally. But please, don't foist your
audience's preferences on my audience, thank you very much.)

I would love to have research done on what makes a good book for MY
audience, but that research would not benefit you. It may be a starting
point, but hey, my audience my be the .005% of the human population that
hates headings, punctuation, and paragraphs. Who knows. Of course, if
any academics out there want to base their career on studying my books
and my audience, great! My ego would soar ("Hey, I have a whole field
of study on MY books!") and my audience would benefit.

And finally, what if research finds that 99.8% of UNIX admins will
never, ever, ever go to the online help? Will that stop you from
developing an online help system of the like they have never seen
before, and then educating them in its use? Not me (but of course, I
will also give them their preferred method and hope to catalyze a
paradigm shift in future generations of UNIX admins).

That is why I think that general research findings cannot determine the
goodness of a specific book.


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