18 October 2012

Documentation for Prometheus

I was lighting the fire at home (a complex affair involving kindling and logs that I’d split myself, and a general feeling of manly can-do-ness). I turned to the homunculus and pointed out that before very long he’d be building the fire and chopping the wood, at which point his mother raised an eyebrow at me in quaint disapproval.

The lighting of fires played an important part role in my early years. I was in Cubs and then Scouts and loved going on camps. For me as a child, lighting a fire meant I was on an adventure, about to enjoy a barbecue, or both! Perhaps my favourite euphemism for a fire is “caveman TV” as even when nothing’s cooking, the way flames move is fascinating.

Fire also served as my introduction to technical writing as the first document I ever produced was a poster on fire lighting for display at a camp-craft competition and to gain my photography badge.

Of course it was a far cry from the modern documents I produce. It was 20 years ago and the world was still very analogue. It consisted of a sheet of cardboard that had been curved slightly so it would stand, twelve photos taken on a 35mm camera, and handwritten instructions regarding the gathering of fuel, the building of the fire, and the best technique for lighting. Once the photos and the instructions were on the sheet of cardboard, it was covered in cling-film to waterproof it.

I did get my photography badge, but I also learnt a lot about matching production to client needs. I’m very unlikely to produce handwritten documents that are attached to a discarded piece of cardboard now, unless of course the end user is going to be an 8 year old child who may need to roll that document up and stick it in a backpack, and then later tear an edge off the document to use as an improvised fire lighter. I spend a lot of time very impressed with the technology I get to use as part of my job, but it’s important to always match that technology to the needs of the end user, not the whims and abilities of the author.


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