Re: Tracking off

Subject: Re: Tracking off
From: Sandy Harris <sharris -at- dkl -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 15 Dec 1999 12:52:23 -0500

Mark Baker wrote:
> Andrew Plato wrote
> > Therefore, why assume anything. Why not just hand the reader as much as
> > you can. You can lead an audience to enlightenment but you can't make
> > them productive.
> <vicious personal attack> [snip] </vicious personal attack>
> The statement Andrew makes is nonsense, of course. "As much as you can" is
> limited only be exhaustion. There is always something else that can be said.
> The art is say only that which interests your audience. ...

No. The art is to provide everything they might reasonably need, including
pointers to outside references where appropriate, and still organize the
whole so that it is readable, essential information can be found quickly,
and so on.

> I would hate to eat at a restaurant run on Andrew's principles. Nothing
> would be cooked, since that would require audience analysis. The waiter
> would simply dump the entire contents of the pantry on your table and leave
> you to sift through for something edible.

Nonsense. Having a well-stocked pantry and a good choice available to the
customer need not imply that at all. The hard part is setting up the menu,
the chalkboard specials, the waiter's speil ... so that the customer can
get what he/she wants with minimum hassle.

> <exasperated rant>
> And, for the thosandth time (or so its seems this month), audiences do not
> want to be enlightened, they want to be productive. If you can't write in a
> way that helps audiences be productive, you have no business in the
> profession.
> </exasperated rant>

And if you leave out essential information in an effort to keep it simple,
your audience won't be productive. On the other hand, if you include too
much then, provided you organize it well, that does not damage their

> <even more exasperated rant>
> It seems we have now invented a new form of rationalization to mask laziness
> or incompetence in technical writers. For a long time it has been the
> I'm-a-writer-so-I-can-write-about-anything rationalization for not learning
> you subject matter. Now its the
> if-I'm-technically-accurate-I-don't-need-to-consider-my-audience
> rationalization for not learning about your audience.
> Wrong on both counts, folks. You have to do both. You have to know your
> stuff and know it well. And you have to know your audience and know them
> well. No excuses. No shortcuts. This is a difficult profession. Justify you
> paychecks. Stop making excuses and get on with it.
> </even more exasperated rant>

Yes, indeed.

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