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Somebody pulled out an interesting analogy in response to the accuracy thing
that I want to expand upon. First a disclaimer:
THIS IS NOT A MAC VS PC DEBATE. Don't get your technological Dogma in an
uproar, Loki, or Alanis Moresette will come whack you.
Somebody mentioned the early Apple ad where they show a PC with a stack of
manuals and an Apple with a tiny brochure. The message was clear - Apples are
easy to use.
Agreed. Apples are and were much easier to use. It is agreed that the first
Apples were far superior products to the early PCs.
So why did the PC succeed while the Apple has played the perennial catch-up
The early Apples were easy because Steve Jobs and friends forced a structure on
to Apples that limited what users could do with the system. This made it
easier to learn the system because there was less to know. Thus, Apples were
and are appealing to non-techies
PCs on the other hand were a wide-open platform. Many different manufacturers
and products came together to make the early PCs (and still do). There was
enormous flexibility in the PC. This flexibility begat more flexibility as
more and more people used the PC. The mere existence of Microsoft is a direct
result of exploiting the flexible nature of the PC.
Quite simply, the PC offered more avenues for use. Apples did not.
Now - before you have a brain aneurysm about this topic - think about the
lesson we tech writers can learn from this?
There is TREMENDOUS value in flexibility.
But flexibility has a price: complexity. To master a flexible, dynamic
environment a person must have the mental capacity to conquer complex ideas.
Therefore, the most valuable documentation you can write is one that appeals to
multiple audiences simultaneously. A good doc addresses both the morons and
the super-nerds. The more flexible a document is, the more likely people will
find what they are looking for in that document.
Just recently a TECHWR-L poster asked about documenting and object oriented
application. This person asked - "should I tell the reader about OOP
concepts." Of course he should. Rather than just EXPLAIN the product, educate
the reader. Bring the reader to a particular intellectual point.
However, the only way to educate a reader is to be a master. This is why your
professors in college were not consulting a Subject Matter Expert every 20
minutes to answer your questions. Your professor was a master of a particular
subject, that is why he was allowed to educate your spongy little mind while
you were getting drunk and having a lot of casual sex...oh wait that was me.
Communicating complex ideas requires intimate, detailed knowledge of the topic.
Writing flexible and "audience tailored" documents requires, above anything
else, comprehensive knowledge of the subject. Yes you can "OVER" document, but
if you "over" document in a way that is flexible and piles through concepts in
a compelling manner - then people will be able to use that information.
HOW do you write like this? Well, that is another ball of wax. I do not have
the resources to educate all of TECHWR-L on how to do that. But suffice to say
- it can be done.
Readers are not as dumb as you might think. Before you go off and assume your
readers are all dumb and incapable of seeing the world as you see it, remember
that at one time in the past you were just as ignorant as your readers. If you
can learn, so can they.
Just ask Silent Bob.
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