Flat Earth Tech Comm

Working with my current client has really reinforced for me how much traditional documentation methods involve flattening reality. The client is dealing with a large body of troubleshooting information, in which there are complex relationships between issues the user experiences, the symptoms that help narrow down the issue, the configurations under which symptoms can occur, and the underlying faults, misunderstandings, or frustrated expectations that cause the issues.

The relationships between these factors are complex, many to many, and multi-dimensional. Any presentation of these relationships on paper, or on a piece of glass standing in for paper, involves flattening them. This flattening is necessitated by the media, which is, literally, flat. It is also a result of the limits of our own ability to visualize and express complex multi-dimensional relationships. Whether it is a result of thought patterns developed by a five-thousand year experience with paper as the media for externalizing and preserving our thoughts, or whether the limit is innate, we flatten as we attempt to understand. read more

Confusing Analytic and Synthetic Truths in Defining Topic Types

Ray Gallon’s recent post, Let’s Break a Tech Comm Rule proposes that we should rethink the idea of separating tasks from concepts. Hooray! It’s no secret that I’m no fan of this separation.

Reading Ray’s post, also sparks this thought. It is a common and sometimes catastrophic error to confuse an analytic truth with a synthetic truth. That is, it is an error to confuse a truth about how to analyse something into its parts with a truth about how that thing should be organized and presented to users. read more

How the Web Restores Civilization

There is no doubt that the Web is highly disruptive. Nicholas Carr thinks it is rotting our brains. David Weinberger, on the other hand, thinks it is fundamentally changing (for the better) they way we understand and develop knowledge. I think it is restoring civilization to its roots.

We Need a New Economic Model for Tech Writing Tools

Tom Johnson’s correspondent, Sam from Canada, asks if tool vendors are not more to blame for the slow pace of change in tech comm than tech writers themselves:

Hi Tom,

I’ve been enjoying your posts along with Mark Baker’s. You both have good points about technical writing trends. I could be totally wrong, but maybe it’s not the tech writers that are resisting change. Maybe it’s the companies making the tools/money that are resisting change.

I don’t think the problem is so much that the tool vendors are resisting change. Tool vendors need a certain amount of change in order to create a reason for people to buy upgrades. But vendors also need, and therefore support, changes that provide a viable economic model for creating and selling software. They won’t support a change if there is not a viable way for them to make money by supporting it. read more