Snakes on a User Guide

“Snakes on a Plane? What’s that about?”
From the Dilbert Newsletter

I just finished watching the awesome action film, Snakes on a Plane. Only a technical writer could have come up with such a self-descriptive title. It ranks right up with The 40 Year Old Virgin, Silent Movie and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Can you imagine what other films would have been called had this explicitly self-descriptive technique been applied? Here’s a partial list:

  • Titanic – A Very Big Ship Hits A Very Big Iceberg; Hundreds Die
  • The Godfather – A Whole Lotta Italians and Others Get Whacked
  • Harry Potter – Good Wizards Fight Really, Really, Evil Guys
  • Star Wars – Many Spaceships Chase Each Other and Blow Up Real Good
  • Lord of the Rings – A Bunch of Extremely Annoying Creatures Go Chasing After a Stupid Ring
  • Shrek – Funny, Big, Green, Scottish Ogre Rescues a Princess
  • Jaws – Not So Funny Big Shark Eats Various People

Somehow, I don’t think these films would have done as well. In any case, Snakes on a Plane is an excellent example of how user feedback can be effectively incorporated into the main product. The film generated so much Internet buzz that the producers reshot the film, making it more violent and explicit, causing the film’s rating to be changed from PG to R. Rather than suing all the fans who created websites and blogged about the film, the film industry actually embraced the fans and updated the film based on their feedback.

Not only was this an absolutely unprecedented way of producing a film, it is a model for the way documentation should be created and reviewed. Select clients and power users should be allowed to see early drafts of our documentation, so that they can suggest changes. This is often done for the actual software – why not documentation? Then we’d no longer have to scream, paraphrasing from the movie:

Get these mother-****ing errors out of my mother-****ing draft!

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