Monday, February 27, 2012

Tutorial Architecture

A friend of mine critiqued my post on parallelism. It gave me some good insight. into what needs to be done and what was done well. It has made me think about what makes a good tutorial/guide/instructional writing of any kind. One thing I thought of was how much detail is necessary. If I put forth to much detail the reading becomes overwhelming, if I don't put in enough detail then it may not get the important information across. Also, Gadget commented on the value of examples and summaries. So this is the approach I came up with.

I start with a topic, in this case parallelism. A topic is a piece that is meant to be read together as one chunk. Kind of like section in a chapter or a post on a blog. Each topic is made up of concepts and key words. At the beginning of a topic introduce what the concepts to be covered and define the key words for that topic. Give a summary over view of the topic and then go into the concepts.

Each concept has several levels of explanation. The first paragraph of the concept is the summary of the concept for some one who already knows the concept. This way, if some one reads this summary and feels confident that they understand the concept, they can continue on to the next one. In this way some one who knows a lot but maybe missing a few things can skim really easily.

The next section of the concept is optional. It tries to explain the concept carefully. Some one who this is a new field would should be able to understand this explanation. And there may be more than one attempt. this part of the concept is attempt after attempt to explain the concept. coming from different angles. pictures, analogies, detailed explanations, what ever it takes to get help anyone understand the concept. the reader need only read how ever much it takes to understand the summarized earlier.

After the explanations, it continues on to the next concept. There isn't a summary because the reader is expected to read the summary that came first. I may change that and just restate the summary in different words.

After each concept has been covered there is a summary of the topic, how all the concepts fit together and what not as well as Links or references to further reading. What I hope to accomplish with this approach is that those who know can skip, the important information is presented up front and hashed over as many times as it takes to make it clear, the information is represented in a clear pattern that is carefully followed so that the user can keep focused and keep track of where they are. and if they still don't understand or want to learn more, there are references to further study. It isn't a format that standard textbooks would be able to support well, and will take a lot of work from me. but if I do it on my blog, I can have sections of text expand and collapse. and the time I spend writing the tutorial I'm sure I'll get the time i spend back in the confidence in the field I have found in myself.

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