Re: Windows help article in Feb. Dr. Dobb's Journal

Subject: Re: Windows help article in Feb. Dr. Dobb's Journal
From: "Steven J. Owens" <puff -at- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 13 Jan 1995 22:56:24 GMT

Chuck Martin (TWriter -at- ix -dot- netcom -dot- com) wrote:
: I feel slighted, even offended. I'd like some feedback from again-fellow
: techwhirlers if my feelings are justified, or if I'm overreating. (I am
: already drafting a letter to the editor.)

: In the Feb., 1995, issue of Dr. Dobb's Journal, there is an article
: "RTFHelp for Windows Help files." In the article, the author claims to
: have come up with a tool to make Windows Help file development
: easier--for programmers!

: At least, that's the drift I get. The lead sentence: "At some time or
: another, every Windows application developer has to generate help
: files." As a member of the technical writing community, I feel a sense
: of outrage that, in 1995, having programmers write documentation is
: still considered the norm by software developers. That, in 1995,

Chuck, not to forestall that delicious sense of outrage you're
probably enjoying right now, but you might want to stop and think and
reconsider the intent of the article. I haven't read it, but:

First, it's in Dr. Dobb's Journal, an excellent magazine but not
exactly something that is standard fare in high-end software
development houses.

Second, a LOT of people are out there developing windows applications
these days, what with VisualBasic and VisualC++ and the like taking
the Windows world by storm. The article is not necessarily addressed
to the 5-person corporate software development project that might
reasonably be assumed to have tech writers. Take another look at it
and see if it might be directed more at the "garage band" programmer
working out of his basement or bedroom and developing his own
software package.

: The kicker is, this tool takes a "simple tagged file--created with any
: text editor--and generates an RTF file that can be passed through the
: Windows help compiler." Isn't "simple tagged file" the grossest of
: oxymorons?

No. A "simple tagged file" is exactly that, a file with simple tags.
It's quite possible to have obscenely complex tagged files, but that's
not necessarily the author's intent. Certainly, I suspect that this
"simple tagged file" doesn't generate winhelp files with anything near
the complexity of the stuff discussed by technical writers, but
software developers typically don't think much about the complexity of
their online help.

: The author further compounds his thesis by suggesting that "instead of
: requiring an expensive, hard-to-use Windows word processor, you can use
: any editor that can create ASCII text files." With all the money spent
: on developemtn tools, Word for Windows can typicall be bought for less

Money spent by whom? Remember who you're talking about. Also realize
that the combined cost of a word processor and add-on or other tools
can come up to $200-400, which is, in fact, equal to or more than what
the development packages cost (sometimes far more, e.g. visualbasic
can actually be quite inexpensive).

I'm not trying to be an apologist for this article, nor for
programmers who don't think writers are worth their time, nor for
management that ignores the need for good writers and the need for
good tools for those writers, but your post sounds like you may be
reacting without an awareness of the context.

Steven J. Owens
puff -at- netcom -dot- com
Steven J. Owens
puff -at- netcom -dot- com

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