VD: The Summary

Subject: VD: The Summary
From: Mark Levinson <mark -at- SD -dot- CO -dot- IL>
Date: Tue, 9 May 1995 19:57:56 IDT

Faithful readers will recall that I was wondering what to do about
the prospect of writing manuals for which the part numbers, from now
through the life of the product, are supposed to start with the unfortunate
initials VD.

("Hey, Beavis, it says VD. Hnh-hnh." Yes, as Michael Cargal
wrote, anyone snickering "is pretty far down the food chain."
But so are people who comment on bodily noises, and we do try
to avoid making the noises.)

I asked the techwr-l list, and I received 54 responses.

Three (5.5%) urged me to fight for a change in the number.

About as many again (making a total of 11%) favored fighting the
good fight but with reservations (if the change isn't too expensive,
if even one snicker would bother you, etc.).

The other 89% advised me to chill. Eleven, or 20% of the total,
said that the initials VD looked neutral to them until the message's
context focused in on the specific initials. But some, while they
didn't think the initials would necessarily look perfectly neutral,
also didn't think there was any point getting upset about them.

Interestingly, several writers bothered to question the use of
12-point type for a part number. In fact, the design of the
title page is pretty much my responsibility. Everything else
on the page is quite big, so less than 12 points looked a little
silly to me... but not as silly as the VD initials, so I
guess I'll shrink the part number.

I'd like to mention one strong argument against the initials VD
and one strong argument in favor.

- As a technical writer, I don't stop my efforts the moment my work is good
enough for a majority of readers. My goal is not majority acceptability
but maximal acceptability. If someone tells me that what I've written
isn't clear, I don't say "Well, most people understood it so I guess
you're not a very good reader." I respect that reader's reaction as
legitimate and presumably, to a certain extent, representative, and
I try to improve my work accordingly.

If the initials VD jump out at my admittedly middle-aged eyes,
why should I respect my own reaction less than I'd respect reaction
of any other reader? As Rosemarie R. Gaglione wrote me, "I doubt that
you are so unique that nobody else could feel the same." And as
Arthur Comings wrote, "such imposed carelessness gnaws away at a
writer's commitment to make his part of the product as professional
as possible."

"It only takes the right person at some company to find offense
with the initials to such an extent that they would question,
'What other "thoughtless" or misused words are in this document?'"
wrote Mr. or Ms. Bush.

Unfortunately, I don't think that the Bush image of one person,
or even my techwr-l figure of 11% in favor of fighting the part
number, would make much of an impression on my boss. With 30%
I might have put up an argument...

- Robert Plamondon pointed out that while the term VD "refers to
something that is contracted through sex, so does 'pregnancy.'"

Indeed, the primal embarrassment of VD in, let us say, my
grandparents' generation would have been that it indicates sexual
contact with someone who, in turn, has had previous sexual contact
with someone else. Well hoo-ha. Today, when much of the media
is revering AIDS patients as martyrs, what's shameful about old-
fashioned VD?

Maybe I'll take the advice of Daniel Strychalski, who suggests
some sort-of-accidental-seeming reformatting of the number to
make the VD part of it less conspicuous. But I'm not going to
mount the barricades.

Thanks to all for the thoughtful advice.

Mark L. Levinson | E-mail: mark -at- sd -dot- co -dot- il
Summit Design (EDA) Ltd. | Voice: +972-9-507102, ext. 230 (work),
Box 544 | +972-9-552411 (home)
46105 Herzlia, ISRAEL | Fax: +972-9-509118
"Graphics are especially useful for drawing readers into the book."
- STC Intercom

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