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I don't know if this is the sort of question I should ask here -- looking for input from more experienced group members. I've read the "about" document and read/answered some posts.

I'm a programmer/writer. Over the years, I've tried different fiction writing methods. You know ... index cards, Microsoft Word, OpenOffice.org Writer, Scrivener, outlining the plot, not outlining the plot, and so on. I decided to write my own application for my own use. I have no plans to make the software commercial, although I may decide to make it public (open source). I want to ask for input from the group. Two reasons:

  1. Sometimes I get stuck (like now, trying to design the software interface for creating a new book)
  2. I think they may have good ideas that I haven't come across and would like to use them.

Also, I read that this group doesn't get as many questions as preferred (to exit beta status) and I'd like to help with that -- if I can figure out what is permitted to ask.

I'd like to ask the group small questions from time to time. For example, right now I'd like to ask "Here's how FrameMaker handles the bookbuilding process: create a blank book, add/delete/move component items, then save the 'book' container. It's basically the same paradigm as creating a new document in a word processor. In your experience, have you seen any other paradigms? For example, ask you to name the book first rather than last?"

Again, I apologize if this is an improper question or if I've missed something.

  • I want this general area to be on-topic, though these questions have to be asked carefully to avoid just being opinion surveys. I think asking what kinds of interfaces work best for writers would be more useful than asking what other approaches people have seen. (I'm commenting because my thoughts aren't fully-baked enough to create an answer; I'm just throwing some ideas out there in case they help anybody else's thinking.) – Monica Cellio Sep 18 '13 at 1:51
  • I wanted my first questions to be "what have you seen", to be followed in comments or another question by "how did that work for you". Maybe this group is different, but it seems people often lose the multiple pieces when multi-part questions are asked. (Think of email. :-) To use my proposed question above as an example, though, I don't care right now what worked for them. I'm curious how other programmers have done it (a factual, research question aimed at writers, who are the book-builders). If there's something I haven't seen before, I may ask how it worked for them. – Padawan Learner Sep 18 '13 at 2:59
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    I worry that that might fall on the wrong side of "too localized". We want questions to help the asker, of course, but we also want them to help other people who come along later -- if you are the only person who could benefit from the answers to a question then it's too localized. That's why I think questions of the form "what are the best ways to solve such-and-such problem that writers face" work better; you can then use those approaches in your software. But again, I'm thinking out loud here, and I hope others will weigh in. – Monica Cellio Sep 18 '13 at 3:06
  • Yes, I see what you're saying. I remember seeing the set diagram of this in another answer. I guess I can phrase it that way if that's what it takes to fly. – Padawan Learner Sep 18 '13 at 3:11
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    Even if these aren't the types of things to ask as questions on the site. I'm sure there is room for the occasional question in the Chat room. – RhysW Sep 19 '13 at 11:01
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Consider the process of product design.

If you're designing software for, say, kelp farmers, you don't go around to the kelp farmer with each detail of the interface. Kelp farmers don't know anything about software design or construction. In fact, they're pretty OK with how things have been going so far. They aren't particularly interested in your fancy computer-y wizardry until they can actually see that it's helpful to them.

But that doesn't mean that you don't need to involve the kelp farmers in your design. It just means you need to understand the role they serve. What you want from the kelp farmers is an intimate understanding of the work they do, the tools they need, the many variations of common elements. You want lots and lots of user stories; you want to understand the system well enough that your software can integrate into that system and improve on it.

So the questions for the kelp farmers should hardly be about software at all. They should be explorations of what they're already doing.


To answer your question, I personally consider direct "market research" questions off-topic, at least as a default. A market-research question, by nature:

  • Is highly-localized - it's only relevant to you, in the development of your one product.
  • Will solicit opinions, not answers. A dozen different users will have a dozen different preferences; each gets its own two-line answer. And, there's no facts to base these opinions on (unless somebody else has already done and documented the exact same research).
  • Is not so much about writing, as it is about product design. Writers might be the segment you want to research, but they won't really have any inherent interest in the answers to your question.

Specific questions may overcome these difficulties, but I suspect it will be difficult. However, you might be able to get a lot of other great info from the community that you'll find helpful. What kind of diagrams and outlines do writers use? How do they organize their writer's bible? How do they manage files for different chapters and drafts? (These run the risk of being poll questions, but with care, they could also work nicely). Nuts-and-bolts of your program implementation and interface will fit poorly here, but asking about the tools and processes writers already use can be terrific.

  • Nicely done. Thank you. Yeah, this is what I was trying to bumble my way toward in my comments. – Monica Cellio Sep 18 '13 at 12:53
  • Although I disagree with you (comments about development aside, I wouldn't have asked if I didn't consider the answers useful), I'll accept this as a "no" answer. I'm disappointed, but happy that you guys were polite about it, which is more than I can say for other stack exchange sites. – Padawan Learner Sep 18 '13 at 15:41

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