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Users' Advocate: Don’t Idealize the Reader | TechWhirl

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imageUsers' Advocate: Don’t Idealize the Reader | TechWhirl

Users' Advocate Mark Baker contends that ideal readers of technical documentation don't exist, and we should write our content for "bad readers" instead.

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  • I'm curious about the anthologies that readers create themselves. What shape do those take? When I visualize someone building an anthology, I come up with a picture of someone creating list of links in emails, bookmarks in web browsers, shortcuts on desktops, maybe notes on Google Keep, or perhaps a working document in DOCX with lots of inline links. Another picture I get is pure mental curation and I think this is more likely. The reader doesn't record links but may remember search terms that lead to desired content, search terms that lead to content that linked to desired content, or maybe the name of a website. Is that how you perceive it?
  • mbakeranalectambakeranalecta CanadaPosts: 53
    Hi Thomas.

    Yes, in many cases, these anthologies are entirely transient. That is, I consult a number of sources ad hoc until I find an answer. This is often not a matter of simply hunting for the one source that is valuable. Rather, multiple source contribute something to my understanding. The anthology is the record of the information scent that I followed, and usually I don't bother to retain it past the initial use, because I don't expect to need it again. (I don't tend to read most published anthologies more than once either. My use of them is transitory, so it is not exceptional that the anthologies I create for myself are also transitory.)

    Even so, they are not entirely transitory. My browser history remembers them, and there are times I have gone back to the history to revisit a previous anthology. Also, Google remembers them, and uses them to shape future search results. It even uses them to proactively suggest things I might be interested in through Google Now. And, finally, it aggregates them with the anthologies created by other people to suggest new anthologies for new searches by other people.

    Anthologizing is thus highly dynamic in the Web world. This makes a profound difference to the writer's role. In the paper era, creating a distributing static anthologies was highly valuable, because it was hard for readers to create their own, and there was not technology that created useful anthologies dynamically, intelligently, and on demand. Today, the reader's ability to create their own transient anthologies on demand means that the writer's role should be much more focused on creating content that is easy to anthologize, rather than on constructing anthologies.

    There are also private anthologies that we do retain. I clip all sorts of stuff to Evernote, for instance.
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