There’s a whole group of Linux users out there (myself included), for whom we aren’t writing guides for. When you search for answers online, you find one of two types of write-ups: basic instructionals aimed at first timers, and advanced hacks for those who already have coding language or two under their belt.
But what about everyone in the middle? Those who know how to live in Linux, but aren’t developers? Can those who develop open-source software put themselves in the right mindset to write documentation for those who don’t know what they know? In most cases, the answer seems to be no.
Here’s an example: when I was interested in trying out Atom, I found this project, which include syntax highlighting for GitHub flavored Markdown. Great stuff, but how do I add it to the text editor? If I was only to use the maintainer’s readme file, I’d be lost on how to use it. Bad form.
On the other hand, here’s a project on GitHub from a former colleague with an excellent readme which covers not only installation. but common configurations and usage. Well done!
I’ve asked around, and I’m not the only one who feels that there’s a gap in tech write-ups. That’s why when we write guides for Linode </obvious product placement> we specify the prerequisite knowledge and link to those guides, and don’t cover anything that’s in them. But all new concepts are explained and exampled.
So if you’re a member of an open-source project, go take a look at your README. Would it make sense to someone who’s never used the language it’s written in? Do you explain how to install it, or expect the reader to already be familiar with make? Think about it please.