5.1. Deciding on a Subject

Before you begin writing a HOWTO, it is essential that you determine what subject area you will cover. It is best if the subject area is:

  1. Not too broad, and not too narrow. Try to cover too much information, and you may sacrifice depth. It is better to cover a small subject area fully than to cover a large subject area poorly. Linux tools are known for doing exactly one thing and doing that one thing well. Similarly, your HOWTO should cover one subject and cover it well.

    If your subject matter is very small, it might be better included as part of another HOWTO. This makes it easier for readers to find the HOWTO they need. Search the LDP repository for HOWTOs on related topics, and see if you could place your information in an existing HOWTO.

    How much is too much? How little is too little? That depends on the subject you chose, your mastery of that subject, and many other factors. Just keep this admonition in mind, and use good judgment.

  2. Clearly defined. Know before you begin exactly where the boundaries of your subject area lie. You should not cover the same ground as another HOWTO, and you should try not to leave gaps between your HOWTO and related HOWTOs, either.

  3. Undocumented. Before writing on a particular subject, check other HOWTOs at the LDP, and see if the topic is already documented. If it is, refer to the other HOWTO instead of rewriting documentation that already exists. Don't reinvent the wheel.

    If the HOWTO already in place is insufficient, or needs updating, contact the author and offer to help. LDP authors are usually nice folks. After all, they put in their own valuable time to help people they don't even know. And, they appreciate your help. But, please, don't duplicate work. It causes confusion for everyone.

  4. Pre-approved by the LDP. Before you proceed with your HOWTO, post to the ldp-discuss list and get some feedback from other LDP volunteers. Checking with the list before you begin can save you headaches later. The author speaks from experience.

    It is a really good idea to join the ldp-discuss list, and follow it regularly, even if you never post. It's a good way to stay current on the activities, needs, and policies of the LDP. Although the LDP volunteers are here to assist you, it is ultimately your responsibility to learn these policies, and to follow them.