The Presumption of Common Sense

If there is one phrase which should set off alarms in the mind of a technical writer it’s when a developer says “Ohhh but they wouldn’t use it like that…”.

Because, as I’m sure you all know, they will.

I am currently working with a few people to try and pull together a solid set of product usage recommendations. We provide an SDK and a feature rich application built using our own technology, and that application is extended and configured for specific uses. There are plenty of hook points in there and, for the most part, usage follows accepted patterns. However there is always the time when a certain component is bent and twisted and used in a way we hadn’t expected and it’s these instances that we are trying to understand and capture.

We get a view of them by exploring edge cases when testing, but it occurred to me that there is still one thing that can catch us out. Our old nemesis, ‘presumption’ (which is usually coupled with it’s friend ‘common sense’).

So now I’m on red alert for any statements which are based on presumption. Sometimes they are right, but it’s the times when they are wrong that we need to explore them, capture them and help our customers by giving them some frame of acceptable usage. It’s not an exact science, but even just pausing to have those short conversations seems to be helping.

One comment

  1. In this day and age, “common sense” has become decidedly uncommon. In my opinion, those most likely to presume that their ideas apply to all potential users are the ones most lacking in common sense. I guess I disagree that presumption and common sense are friends.

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