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As I learn more and more about SQL Server every day, I divide up my information into three “buckets”:
In the first bucket are the general concepts about the topic. What is it? What does it do (or sometimes, what is is supposed to do?) How does one operation flow to another?
For this information I use books, magazine articles and believe it or not – Wikipedia. I don’t always trust that last source, but I do use it to see how others lay out their thoughts around a concept. I really like graphical charts that show me the process flow if I can get it, and this is an ideal place for a good presentation. In fact, this may be the only real use for a presentation – I’ll explain what I mean in a moment.
The references for a topic include things like Transact-SQL (T-SQL) syntax, or the screen layout on a panel, things like that. Think Dictionary. The only reference I trust for this information is Books Online – presentations are fine, but we’re talking about a dictionary. Ever go to a movie that just reads through a dictionary? Me neither. But I have gone to presentations where people try to include tons of reference materials in their slides. Even if you give me the presentation material later, it’s not really a searchable, readable medium.
A how-to for me is an example, or even better, a tutorial about an example. Whatever it is shows me a practical use for the concepts and of course involves the syntax. The important thing here is that you need to be able to separate out the example the person is showing you from the stuff you need to know. I can’t tell you how many times folks have told me, “well, sure, if yours is red then that works. But mine is blue.” And I have to explain, “then use “blue” for the search word here.” You get the idea. No one will do your work for you – the examples are meant as a teaching tool only. I accept that, learn what I can, and then run off to create my own thing.
You might think a How To works well in a presentation, and it does, for the most part. For a complex example or tutorial, I still prefer the printed word (electronic if possible) so that I can go over the example multiple times, skip around and so on.
The order here isn’t actually that important. Most of the time I start with a concept, look at an example, and then read the reference material. But sometimes I look up an example, read a little of concepts and then check the reference. The only primary thing I try to enforce is to read something from each of them. It’s dangerous to base your work on any single example, reference or concept.