Total Waste of Time

Subject: Total Waste of Time
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Tue, 21 Dec 1999 09:14:15 -0800 (PST)

In an offline discussion somebody challenged me to point out examples of
useless audience analysis. I got one.

This debate about what to call ToolTips.

NOBODY CARES what you call these damn things. Jeez. This is exactly the kind
of completely trivial nonsense that too many writers obsess over. Pick a name
and stick with it. This decision should take a total of 13.75 seconds. I like
"ToolTips" - DONE!

Nobody on the face of the planet, except a bunch of other tech writers, cares
one tiny iota what you call these things. This list has spent a ridiculous
amount of time and energy (including me) on something that has such an
infinitesimally small impact on your documentation. Compared to such things as
organization, accuracy, and technical detail level - the name for the tooltip
is totally insignificant.

I know all you audience lovin' types firmly believe there is some beautiful
nirvana out there where if you shape your text to the readers' needs you'll
ascend to the next level of tech comm being. I'm sorry, but this just is not
true. Readers by and large could care less what you call things, how you place
apostrophes, or what frickin' tool you used. Readers overwhelmingly care about
ONE thing: getting the info they need real fast and correctly. Nobody cares
what terms you use, as long as you use them consistently. Just pick the most
popular and go with it. You can ALWAYS change it later.

Make a decision and move a long. You want to know what the standards are? GO
grab a big manual off the bookshelf, open it up and use the standards in that
book. If Microsoft, Adobe, or some other big company does it - so should you.
You feel that is unfair? Move to Russia. Bam! Audience analysis is over.

You want to postulate about communication theory, take a college class. That
is what college is for, masticating over concepts. I was in college. It was
fun. We debated all sorts of stuff like that. Now, I work for a living. And out
here in the business world results are what matter most. You think that is
unfair - move to Russia.

Sorry about my rant but I am tired of tech writers whining about how little
time they have to finish documentation when at the same time they are debating
totally trivial nonsense. You want more time, quit wasting time on nonsense and
get down to writing accurate, useful documents.

I'm sorry this is not some tender art form. This is technical documentation.
Individual words are ALWAYS secondary to content. Be assertive, be decisive,
and be efficient and quit worrying about what word to use. Jam out those docs
and move along. You will be amazed how quickly you can get things done when you
are decisive and focus on the big picture.

Speaking of nonsense. I think there is some nonsense out there I need to eat.

Andrew Plato

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