using humor, etc.

Subject: using humor, etc.
From: scot <scot -at- HCI -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Fri, 24 May 1996 10:32:36 +1000

>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.""

You failed to mention the -something metal- should be grounded.

If that were a manual, I'd be very careful to make sure that the (very
important!) information is presented clearly. A user's chagrin over an
expensive CPU being fried is much worse than their annoyance at not having
chatty language.

I think humour in third-party books is fine if well-targeted. I suppose I'll
concede that Dummy's guides may even be well-targeted to a neophyte audience
("you don't need to know THIS" in the glossary is probably a case in point).
I'll not concede I'm a dummy by buying one though. ;-) Actually I have to
admit to having recommended the Unix guide to new users trying to learn the
system. On the other hand when i came to buying an introductory book for
users in the office I wound up getting "Open Computing's Unix Unbound". It's
pretty dry and corporate - not much humour. About as humourous as it gets
are statements like "Which editor should you use? Our advice is to use
either vi or emacs ... and leave pico to rot slowly in benign neglect",
"pico ... will cause permanent, degenenerative brain damage" and "pico is
about as brain-dead as a congressman" -- something I personally don't find
the last statement funny because 1) I'm not American, and my parliament is
not called "congress" and 2) I think our politicians are slightly better
quality than that. However, I digress (my brain must have been damaged by
using PICO some time ago).

Unix is a funny beast. I suppose that there is no other way to disarm its
alarming complexity _other_ than laughing about it; "HINT. If you are
learning vi and you become temporarily discouraged, take a break and try a
little emacs. emacs will seem so complex and impossible that you will feel a
little better about using vi."

Despite all this humour at poor old pico's expense, for neophyte users
(especially mac-weenies) I always reccomend they use PICO -- its much
easier, and they'll never need the complex functions of vi to edit their email.

But I don't think humour is necessary in an official product manual -- it is
after all the public face of the corporation concerned.

I will admit to putting humour in illustrations, examples and/or screen
captures (names and things like that in the fields). But never in the text.
If I could write a funny text I'd be writing comedy. I hear the pay's higher.

I don't think this post has a point, really.

ciao, scot.

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