RE: peanut butter and jelly alien - revisited

Subject: RE: peanut butter and jelly alien - revisited
From: "Humbird, Len - CFC" <Humbird -dot- Len -at- cfwy -dot- com>
To: "'TECHWR-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- LISTS -dot- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 10 Nov 1999 16:11:57 -0800

This indeed is an interesting (albeit extreme) exercise in audience
analysis. So why not take it to the level of absurdity?

On the issue of the "alien" audience, I believe there are still too many
assumptions being made about the audience. As the audience is definitely NOT
human, many things we take for granted must be researched.

For example, what do we know about them? (Again, using "them" assumes a
plurality, whereas "it" may be a singular entity, or a collective. Or a
persistence that is beyond our ability to perceive or classify to any
meaningful degree.) Are they even capable of communicating through a
scripted language and/or [human] AV technology? And even if they were, would
they have the slightest inclination to communicate with your PBJ
instructions, let alone perform the task (in this universe)?

If, by now, you're thinking that your audience might be a flunky pothead you
knew from high school who could probably benefit from some cranial
ventilation, then you're not far off.

Does the alien have:
a) a body with appendages that are roughly equivalent to
arms/hands/tentacles, or
b) telekinetic abilities (in this universe) which allow similar mobility.
If so, you're in luck. They can spread the peanut butter and turn the page.

Otherwise, perhaps we should start with NO assumptions on the audience, and

* Does it even exist? I would further have to qualify that with a number of
other assumptions, such as:
- What do I mean by "exist"? Today? In this universe? To my ability to
perceive it?
- What difference does it make whether or not that particular audience
"exists"? (A comforting thought.) It could be rather short-sighted of me to
even ask!

* Does the alien perceive the concept of time and space, or cause and
effect? If not, then that makes it difficult to write an appendix that
covers troubleshooting.

* What form of consciousness does the alien posses, if any? To what degree
must a tech writer rise (or sink, or swim) in order to establish
communication with said alien?

* If it possesses some form of basic awareness, what medium of communication
is viable? Note that telepathy is not a viable option for most [earth-based]
tech writers. Neither are extreme facial expressions.

Then there are cultural issues with which to come to grips:

* The idea of PBJ may send shivers down their spines (or perhaps unwanted
electrical impulses down their structural pathways).

* Could one of the ingredients be a sacred ancestor? Or descendants? This
could get tricky.

* Could something about the process offend or (short-out) the alien? A step
in the process could translate to giving someone "the finger" (or tentacle)?

Ah, but the creation of technical documentation is an elaborate exercise in
transforming thought and energy into mass (which in and of itself is a
depressing thought). But we all hope that somehow it is transformed back
into thought and energy on some other end.

Ok, back to answering all the voices in my head...

-----Original Message-----
From: John Posada [mailto:jposada01 -at- yahoo -dot- com]
Sent: Wednesday, November 10, 1999 8:46 AM
Subject: RE: peanut butter and jelly - revisited

That's not the point, and it was a quick example to
prove a point, maybe not the best.

How much do YOU assume your users know when you write
your documentation. It seems to me that there has been
days of discussion just on how to document the path
from a windows menu to the action and what type of
symbol to use.

Was it a simplistic example? Sure...I am also working
on some real work that takes thought and I don't have
much brain-power to spare right now...I also assumed
that everyone would see the point I was trying to make
without looking at the example word for word.

I'm sure that with a little imagination, you can find
a real hole in anyone's instructions. Wanna try me?
Write the instructions and let's see if I can find a
legitimate ommission.

--- "Cascio, Justin" <Justin_Cascio -at- tvratings -dot- com>
> Do you talk about target audience before doing this
> exercise? It sounds like
> a cute schtick, but unless your target audience is
> aliens with no jars or
> similar items in their culture, and no concept of
> gravity, can't you assume
> that your target audience, if they're savvy enough
> to read instructions, can
> also figure out that jelly falls out of an upturned
> jar?

When I wrote the original response and threw out the
example a couple of weeks ago, I had 3 people email me
privately that I was putting the jelly on wrong. I
happen to do both parts on the same side of the same
slice. Can you assume to know what parts to assume and
what parts not?

> Justin Cascio
> -----Original Message-----
> From: John Posada [mailto:jposada01 -at- yahoo -dot- com]
> Sent: Wednesday, November 10, 1999 10:10 AM
> Subject: Re: peanut butter and jelly - revisited
> I have done it.
> It has never backfired. Of course, I loaded the
> deck,
> so to speak. Do this by YOU using the instructions

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