Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
The lowest-common denominator problem
Mark Bernstein writes in his blog about the frustration of trying to find a book about Flash that is written for people who already have a basic knowledge of computer programming:
"Now, it's possible to explain Flash without assuming any background, but it wastes a lot of time. Jargon has a purpose, Is ActionScript call-by-reference, or call-by-value? You can just tell me, or you can spend 10 pages explaining stuff we all learned sophomore year [...]" and "Yes, it's nice not to assume that you remember Programming 171. But lots of people have taken the courses or read the books; why waste our time?"
Every author struggles with their audience. What will they know? What will they want to know? The team that helps a publication come together can be a help, and a hindrance. Editors, marketers, and all the others who have a hand in the publication each have their own conception of the audience, and sometimes their own individual agendas, and inevitably each influences the direction and voice of the publication. The more people involved, the more it gets "dumbed down" or generalized.
Fear and money are the two biggest problems. If the book is too focused, people who shouldn't have bought it in the first place will complain. If it the book is too specialized, it won't sell as many copies. You have to make everything seem easy, to make the product look better, or encourage people to buy the book and everybody should be able to do everything -- don't admit that some tasks require specialized training and knowledge. Then end result? Frustration on the part of people like Mark, and a general blandness, each book overlapping with all of its ilk, for the rest of us.