07 August 2010

Blaming the tools

A frequent debate – you might almost say lament – amongst people in the technical communication community is about the tools we use to do our jobs. Every tool in existence has those who love it – and those who hate it. Personally, I feel it's a case of “best tool for the job” – and for the most part, I don't care what I use. In fact, I quite enjoy the challenge of someone requesting something I haven't used before.

I do, though, feel quite strongly that I should understand how a tool works or I won't be working efficiently. What's worse, I could leave a project with a documentation suite that collapses like a heap of cards as soon as someone tries to make a change. But it's not all down to me. Anyone who edits a complex document has the same responsibility.

A lot of the grumbling about the various tools is because someone hasn't taken the trouble to find out how the one in question works, or what its limitations are. Imagine how a car manufacturer would respond to these complaints:
Fuel consumption is through the roof, the engine is noisy and I can't go faster than 40mph People have told me I need to change gear – but I don't see why I should have to do that. I want to stay in first gear. Your car is rubbish.
or
I bought a small car because it was cheap, but it can't tow my very large caravan when I go on holiday in the mountains. I should be able to tow any size caravan I want with your car – I don't care that it wasn't designed to tow anything more than a small trailer.
I don't think the person complaining would get very far – do you? But that's similar to what I see and hear all the time about the various tools out there. What do you think?

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