How to complain


A rare divergence from our regularly unscheduled computer junk brings you: computer people junk.

Try to avoid writing things like this

Foo is bad, and bar is better; here is why ...

Or, at least, be very careful about writing such things.

Why? Because inevitably, somebody will respond: ‘wait, I was confused, but I think I’ve figured it out: what you’re calling a “bar” I know as a “frobnicated foo”’.

A frobnicated foo is obviously a type of foo. So writing things like that alienates a core part of your audience: the people who have strong opinions on frobnicated foos and thing they’re great. That is, the people who agree with you. But they will be put off when they read that foos are bad, and it will be difficult to win them back.

Try to write things like this instead

Often, when people try to solve a problem, they employ a particular approach. This approach is prone to problems; here is why an alternate approach does not run into those problems.

Names are difficult, and people frequently disagree on their meanings. Replace pesky names with descriptions.

And absolute statements (‘foo is always better than bar’) are quite strong, and require an equally strong defense. It’s not necessary to explicitly state an absolute, even if you think it holds. ‘It might be better to use bar than foo sometimes’ is easier to defend than ‘bar is better than foo’, and it’s usually more true.

This isn’t redundant

If somebody already knows what a foo is, isn’t it redundant, even patronising, to make them read a description of the problems foo solves and how it solves them? It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. The purpose of a description in this case isn’t just to be a definition-in-place-of-a-name. It’s to frame the problem, in a way that sets up the rest of your argument, and helps people avoid preconceptions they may have about related names. Your argument should be made in reference to your specific framing of the problem, not just in reference to the things that you expect people to know about foos.

Providing context to your argument also means that it can be read and understood by more people, making it more accessible.

Have a good reason for complaining

Simply spewing negativity into the void is not a good enough reason to publish a complaint. There is enough negativity in the world as is. A complaint should have a good reason for existing. In particular, if that reason is to convince people that they should agree with you, then an overly acerbic tone may be unhelpful. And empathy always helps.