Re: Using Humor Judiciously

Subject: Re: Using Humor Judiciously
From: Eric Ray <ejray -at- IONET -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 22 May 1996 19:12:04 PDT

Adding fuel to the humor fire...

"Huber, Mike" <Mike -dot- Huber -at- SOFTWARE -dot- ROCKWELL -dot- COM> wrote:
>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.

Not to quibble too much, but the third party types also have
a pretty substantial interest in not running the software down.
The humor can touch on idiosyncracies of the software, but
can't make the software look bad because without software sales,
the books don't sell either. The effective third-party
books make software look GOOD--easy, fun, useful--
by avoiding the overly somber tone that corporate
management requires.

I'll be the first to admit to having slammed Dummies books when
they first came out and having announced that I'd never call
myself a Dummy in public. However, I'll now say that the
Dummy books (and Idiots books, and Total Yahoo!'s books,
and the forthcoming Yutz's Books <it's a joke, I think>)
provide good, accessible
information to an audience that otherwise wouldn't get it.
(I'd say that without a vested interest too.)

It seems that the "Dummies" who buy the books get good
information and learn quite a bit in the process. Nothing
wrong with having fun. I've changed my tune on humor
in documentation in general as a result. While there is a
time and place (and perhaps lighthearted tone is a better
term than humor) for serious discourse, the
incredible interest in having chatty, humorous books
hold your hand and walk you through the scary stuff like
reading E-mail tells me that many audiences respond
very well to that.

Perhaps (adopting the Devil's Advocate Stance), based on
the type of computer books that currently fill the shelves,
we should all be attempting to be less serious with our
documentation.... I mean, why state that "failure to
discharge static electricity could damage the
computer circuitry" when you can say that "you should
touch something metal to release the static electricity
before you touch anything in the computer--the shock
isn't any fun for you, but it's nothing compared to the
shock you'd get when your computer never starts again.""


Eric J. Ray ejray -at- ionet -dot- net
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