Re: Tracking off

Subject: Re: Tracking off
From: "Mark Baker" <mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 15 Dec 1999 09:56:34 -0500

Mike Stockman wrote

> I disagree. Too much information can never "lead" readers to fail to
> absorb relevant info; poorly organized and presented information may,
> however, hide the important information while emphasizing the stuff you
> don't want.

Do you remember the early Apple commercials? The first frame shows a PC and
then a huge pile of manuals crashes down beside it, rocking the desk. Next
frame shows a Mac (keyboard discreetly in the shadows) and then a tiny wafer
thin manual wafts down beside the Mac, settling silently on the desk.

Two lessons here:

1. Big manuals daunt readers (except the cognoscenti). All unnecessary
information obscures necessary information.

2. Complexity exists to create simplicity. The Mac was simpler than the PC
because it was more complex. It was the job of the manual to enhance the
simplicity, not expose the complexity.

> For the record, I come down squarely on the side of making wholly
> accurate information accessible to anyone.

Something is accurate if it hits its target. What is the target? The
enlightenment of the cognoscenti or the performance of the average user?
Anyone who thinks they can tell the whole truth, make every true statement
that can be made, about a product is deluding themselves. There are an
infinite number of such statements. The set of true statements that can be
made must be limited to the set that is of interest to a particular

The set of true statements that is of interest to the developer of a product
is very different from the set of true statements that is of interest to
users of the product. Both are different from the set of true statements
that are of personal interest to any particular technical writer.

Furthermore, the use of language between two groups may differ to such an
extent that a statement that is true for one group may be false for another.
We have to write statements which are true in the language and culture of
their intended audiences, whether or not they are true in our language and

True is not the same as accurate. All accurate statements are true, but not
all true statements are accurate. There is an additional test for accuracy.
To be accurate, a statement must hit its behavioral target. It must cause
its intended audience to act in the correct manner.

Those who arguing for technical accuracy over user friendliness are in fact
arguing for truth over accuracy. This is the lazy way. It is easy to
establish the
truth of statements made in the language of your peer group. It is much
harder to establish the accuracy of statements made to people outside your
peer group. Any literate person can do the first. Only a skilled
communicator can do the second.

Mark Baker
Senior Technical Communicator
OmniMark Technologies Corporation
1400 Blair Place
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada, K1J 9B8
Phone: 613-745-4242
Fax: 613-745-5560
Email mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com

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