Re: "Two-track" documentation

Subject: Re: "Two-track" documentation
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 1999 10:10:05 -0800

Given the comments:
>I always thought the Prime Directive was to write technically accurate
>information in a clear and concise manner. Seeing as how we're TECHNICAL
>writers and not AUDIENCE writers.

>> For the life of me, I cannot understand how audience consideration
>> and technical accuracy are mutually exclusive.

>Of course, the contrary is the truth. Technical accuracy and audience
>consideration are mutually dependant.
>Manifestly, you do not serve any audience by misleading them.

I gotta disagree. Technical accuracy is certainly not the most important
characteristic of technical writing. It has to take a back seat to relevance
and usability. Sometimes it doesn't even make it onto the bus.

Consider the typical documentation written by the engineer who is untrained
in writing. Said engineer will go to great lengths to make sure that the
doc is technically accurate. And certainly, a statement like, "this sorting
routine uses the state-of-the-art, whizzbang sorting algorithm which allows
you to sort megafiles in a fraction of the time" is technically accurate.
But does it tell you how to perform the sort? Nope. So, technical
accuracy = 10 but relevance and usability = 0. So what good is it???
Ask the audience. It sucks.

I've even seen times when being technically accurate was a detriment to
the docs because it made the view from the user's perspecitive excessively
complicated. The user didn't need to know the details to get the job done.
Those details just got in the way. For example, if the user needs to sort
the information and the system actually copies the information line-by-
line and then replaces the original text with the new, telling the truth,
the whole truth, and nothing but the truth may only serve to confound the
user -- depending on the audience.

So, if the Prime Directive isn't technical accuracy, what is it? To my
mind, it is to support the users in performing their assigned tasks by
delivering just that information that users need just when they need it.
If we can do all that and be technically accurate too, so much the better.

-Sue Gallagher
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com

The _Guide_ is definitive.
Reality is frequently inaccurate. --Douglas Adams

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