Re: Anyone heard of this Tufte guy? -Reply

Subject: Re: Anyone heard of this Tufte guy? -Reply
From: Bill Sullivan <bsullivan -at- SMTPLINK -dot- DELTECPOWER -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 15 Apr 1997 16:14:31 -0700

When I saw that Edward J. Tufte was going to be the keynote speaker at
the International STC Conference in Toronto this May, I went to San
Diego Technical Books to look for his books. I think they ranged in
price from $40 to $48. I looked at each one. Saw nothing that made me
think I was looking at a bargain (compare $19.95 for Bugs in Writing,
$15 or so for Elements of Style, $25 for Burchfield's Fowler) with
great applicability to my work, so I went to the San Diego Public
Library and borrowed "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information"
and "Envisioning Information."

Lofty and intelligent but also very dry is how I would describe the
writing. Perhaps vaguely comparable to Aristotle's Poetics. This is
grad school material, not the tight little paragraphs of Strunk and
White and certainly not Visual Presentations for Dummies.

I think Tufte's usefulness depends on your job -- or what you make of
it -- and your working environment and what you can bring to it. There
is a great difference between visual presentations ("Get a screen dump
of the Open File dialog and paste it here") and creative visual
presentations that consider details and weigh alternatives. When you
are allowed (or allow yourself) to be creative about your visual
presentations is when Tufte will be most useful to you.

If you are in a position to be creative, Tufte may open new worlds to
you, if you can handle the dryness and the way the books are (or
aren't) organized. These are not books of rules like The Elements of
Style, not dictionaries like Fowler, and certainly not references
with numbered paragraphs like the Chicago Manual of Style. Tufte's
books are journeys, and sometimes you must get well into them before
you find out what is going on. This will fascinate some and bore

But like other works we recognize as classics -- great symphonies,
fine art, good poetry -- the meaning of Tufte's work may become
clearer with time and repeated study.

I would disagree with my friend Michelle Corbin Nichols who sees him
as a god among technical communicators. I am willing only to go so
far as to grant him icon status; I hope he doesn't mind.

Bill Sullivan
bsullivan -at- deltecpower -dot- com
San Diego, California

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