FWD: RE: Appealing to or introducing Tech Comm "best practices"

Subject: FWD: RE: Appealing to or introducing Tech Comm "best practices"
From: Anonymous Poster <anonfwd -at- raycomm -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1999 16:06:58 -0600 (MDT)


Thanks for all the interesting and helpful responses to my original post
about appealing to tech writing standards or best practices when working
with colleagues who aren't familiar with them. That post was vague, so I'd
like to try to clarify my situation and then make further comment.

First, about my situation. I actually was hired to this new position
because the manager of QA and Documentation thought my portfolio showed I could
help bring about improvements in the company's documentation. That is all very
well, but how to go about it? Obviously, the situation calls for
diplomacy, especially toward the other tech writer. Fortunately, my new colleague and
I get along very well personally, and there is no personality conflict, as
one poster wondered. But I've been asked to get to it right away; there isn't
much opportunity to persuade by example, although I agree that would be a
great approach. For those who've cautioned me not to assume all my ways
are right and that my colleague can't possibly have any good ideas, I agree
and am doing my best to keep my mind wide open and to look for
to learn and to compromise.

Now, for further comment. Maggie Secara says "citing Authority" may not be
a very persuasive argument. And Eric Ray points out that "just because it's
in a book doesn't mean it's right, just because it's published doesn't mean
it's right, and just because it's conventional wisdom doesn't mean it's
right" and that too few of the standards or best practices we rely on are
actually "proven" by empirical studies. I agree with both Maggie and Eric.
Standards are merely standards; they are not statistics and even empirical
studies must be interpreted for application to particular contexts.

However, some of the principles that could be considered standard do have
some basis in empirical studies. Aren't there studies that show that text
in all uppercase is harder to read than text with a mixture of upper and
lowercase? (Nod to Tom Murrell.) I believe I could also find studies that
suggest that online help windows with black text on a white background are
easier to read than those with white text on a light blue background.

In cases like these and in cases where the standard is less definitive, I
think discussing the issue in terms of some published work can be more
constructive than discussing it in terms of "my way is better." If my
co-worker and I disagreed on what background color to use in online help
windows, my first reaction would be to pull out Horton's _Designing and
Writing Online Documentation_ to see what he has to say and to check out
his bibliography for any existing empirical studies. Bringing this respected,
outside voice can help our discussion be less subjective and personal.

But what if my colleague isn't interested in reading, either the sources I
can supply or ones s/he finds? My experience suggests that, when this is
the case, the discussion is basically over, and the person with the most power
wins. (Nod to Andrew Plato.) I don't like power games, winning or losing
them. What I *do* enjoy is a lively discussion of whatever standard, best
practice, or guru advice seems relevant to the issue at hand. So, in
response to Nora Merhar's comment and question, "When I was working with a
team of writers, we worked to a template and discussed/voted on each
change. It was a seriously irritating process, but at least everyone got to have
input. Is that the kind of thing you want to do?" Yes!

My original post was about how to encourage my colleague to get interested
in reading whatever the going word about a given technical communication
issue is, so we can discuss and decide. Of course, I believe that if my
colleague becomes familiar with the available resources, she might change
her mind and agree with me on some issues. But I wouldn't mind if she read
them and still disagreed. Geoff Hart's advice on how to encourage learning
in "students" addresses this concern directly, and it seems like good
advice to me.

Thanks again for all the responses. I've enjoyed reading them and have
benefited from each, cited and uncited.

Forwarded anonymously on request. If you want the
original poster to see your response, you must reply
to the TECHWR-L list. All direct replies to this
message are automatically discarded. Contact Eric
ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com with questions.

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