Summary of the Sole Writers SIG Meeting

Held December 7, 1998 The work of Edward Tufte

Home / Archives / Summary Overview /

Main Summary

The evening began with the theme of accuracy.

Many of you have seen the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) on television. It's the fake entertainment version of wrestling that inspires great cynism when you consider that many people 1) watch it; 2) enjoy it; 3) believe that it is real wrestling.

In any case, broadcast television recently ran a pseudo-investigative documentary about the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) in which they claimed to reveal the collusion between competitiors in creating the fake stunts. But in fact, the documentary was really a promotion of the same.

All of which leads to a very choice quotation from the commentator, "If they didn't yell, kick and scream, this would look hokie."

Define Accuracy

Webster's Random House College Dictionary, 1991:


  1. the condition or quality of being true, correct, or exact; precision; exactness.
  2. the extent to which a given measurement agrees with the standard value for that measurement.
  3. math. the degree of correctness of a quantity, expression, etc.

Overstatement, understatement, misstatement, and exaggeration are all factors to consider with respect to accuracy.

Opening Exhibits

We briefly touched on each of the following introductory exhibits.

Accuracy and Rosemary Verey's English Country Gardens

This gardening book (ISBN 0-8050-5080-9) uses technical terms for the names of plants without giving common usage and without providing cues to visually identify individual plants when more than one type appears in the same photograph. This might be a good practice in a technical book for professional horticulturalists, but not in a book marketed to general readers. In this example, accuracy goes too far beyond common sense, or in this case, beyond common usage.

The group guessed reasons why the author (or publisher) may have made the decision to use technical terms only. Maybe common terms would have limited the audience to a particular country or region. Maybe there was a disconnect between the author and the marketing?

Then we suggested ways to supplement the material. Perhaps an appendix of technical names, common names, and thumbnail photographs.

55 Emery Street

We looked at an old photograph from my collection. A group of men stand outside their place of work sometime in the 1940s or 1950s. We related this to two themes: accuracy and time. Documenting who, what, when, and where. We also point out that photographs are no longer testements to accuracy, the can be modified to any degree. Then we sit back and realize: photos have always carried a bias to them. The photographer frames the picture and develops the film. If you speak the language of photography, you understand the bias. If you don't speak the language, you might be duped.


We briefly looked at an article from the Colby College Alumnae magazine. "Where's My Million" is about government-backed lotteries, and the falsehoods they promote. The theme: accuracy.

Hackos Letters

We briefly look at 2 letters appearing in the STC Journal. One from Carnegie Mellon with regard to JoAnn Hackos' documentation process maturity model. The letter suggests that:

  1. Hackos copied the CMI model without giving it due credit

  2. Hackos is unable to sufficiently evolve her model with industry feedback.

The second letter is a reply from Hackos in defense of her work. Although her letter is well written and makes valid points, her position is not strong. Our theme: accuracy and the need to fully attribute your sources.

Ethics and the FNIC Marketing Brochure

This exhibit is a pamphlet selling the brokerage services of FNIC. The text warns buyers of "typical" selling practices. For example, brokers who gain hidden commissions, brokers who sell products that they already own.

The group briefly discussed how an ethical vacuum on the part of one group creates new opportunities for another.

Edward Tufte and the Smallest Effective Difference

Using examples from Tufte's most recent book, the group defined "the smallest effective difference" and also paid attention to one of our sub-themes: Tufte's fierce and decisive critical judgements.

Edward Tufte and the Quality of Thought

Again, we used more examples from Tufte's book and practiced listening skills while people read aloud. We looked at Tufte's assessment of Lissitzky's photograph "The Constructor." We re-read Tufte's definition of "the quality of thought." We repeated a classic line, "Clear thinking is a lot like good writing."

Edward Tufte and a Definition of Information Design

We looked at some of Tufte's own work that he puts on display for our evaluation. What are we studying? Information Design. The DESIGN of information. What does design mean? Structure. Form. Architecture. Typically we relate information in tree structures. Sometimes flatter surfaces are better. Tufte demonstrates why.

© 1999 by STC Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, USA