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I think the difference is in the distance between the documentation and
the thing being documented.
In the "dummies" books, the documentation is closer (emotionally) to the
reader than to the topic. The joke is shared between the book and the
reader, at the expense of the topic.
When the document is part of the product (or even just produced by the
same company) the joke tends to be on the reader.
Humor in documentation is almost always based on interaction (usually
bad) between the user and the product. A third party can make the product
the butt of the joke, while the in-house documentor has to make the
product look good. Even if it's the exact same joke, it's perceived
differently. For example, the standard "where's the 'any' key?" joke can
be seen as making fun of the naive user or making fun of the poorly
designed instructions. If it's part of those instructions, it must be
making fun of the naive user.
(Or perhaps the curmudgeonly user:
"I just hit the Shift key, the Alt key, the Ctrl key, the Caps Lock key,
and my house key, and yer damn software still hasn't move to the next
And those cute little "everyman" icons make me want to puke.
From: Sue Heim[SMTP:sue -at- RIS -dot- RISINC -dot- COM]
Sent: Monday, May 20, 1996 2:27 PM
To: Multiple recipients of list TEC
Subject: Re: Using Humor Judiciously
Eric wanted to know:
> I'd be interested in hearing comments from anyone
> about judicious use of humor in documentation
> or books. <snip>
I think humor has a place in the
"dummies" books, as Eric stated, especially if it can make a
hard-to-learn topic more fun. Otherwise... ugh! Of course, this is
only my personal preference (I always feel as if I'm being "talked
down to" when I read user docs with lots of humor or cartoons in
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