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Paul Moloney's little question about Outlook 98
(recent "upgrade" from '97) caused the ole
lightbulb to glow, illuminating this thought that
has been rattling around my mental rafters.
Who's the audience for a printed software manual?
Hmm. Let's narrow that question a smidgen...
Who's the audience for a manual that comes
in the box with a piece of PC software like,
oh, say, Office 98... or CorelDRAW!, or a
source-code version-control program.
Some guy, or some woman, sitting at a desk,
staring at a PC monitor and hoping to get
some real work done, yes?
Well, "Duh!" you say.
Hold on. That picture looks pretty clear,
but it's not. WHO is that person? What is
the work they want to do?
Oh, you thought it was somebody in the cube
farm, trying to do figures, write code, write
reports, update the web-site, plan the project,
process the accounts-payable, etc., etc....?
Nope. It *might* be a lonely SOHO worker, with
between zero and twenty cow-orkers, who's in
that position, but it definitely ain't anyone
in the legions of corporate cube-farms. Uh uh.
Don't believe me? Walk into any modern corporate
office with more than 30 or 40 employees. Walk
up to any desk and jiggle the mouse (yeah, they
DO tend to forget to lock the workstation when they
go for coffee, don't they?) -- up pops a half-acre
of familiar icons. Lessee, this one has two well-
known browsers, one well-known integrated office
package, a well-known drawing/stencilling program,
and the client front-end of an ERP system. The
next twenty-seven cubicles you visit will be
similarly accoutered. It's all legitimate, bought
and paid for. Where are your beloved manuals?
Oh. Well, if you walk down this hall, turn left
past the printer station and go through that door,
you'll be in IS/IT-land. The first person you see
has a screw-driver in her back pocket, a static-strap
on her wrist, and is surrounded by several PCs in
various stages of (dis)assembly. "Manuals?" she says,
indicating another door, "Ask at the Help Desk.
They've got some, I think."
Oh hell, you got here ahead of me? Well for the
slower ones who haven't caught up ( :-) ) there
are over four hundred software licenses in use at
this little company, among the sixty employees, and only
three people have ever seen the manuals. Exactly
two copies of each book and associated CDs and
diskettes came into the place. The rest were all
just licence/seat updates. The book was opened for
half an hour the first time the system-setup wallah
had to install and configure this particular program.
Then it went on a shelf. Not even the help-desk
phone people ever reach for the books. They were all
sent on courses for the programs, and learned the
rest on the job.
Most of the people out in the cube farms have never
seen the software manuals and never will, even though
they use the programs every day. One or two might
wander down to IS/IT to borrow a book, but the third
visitor will find that the books never came back from
Anybody in the cube farm who DOES have a book for
the software is using something from QUE or O'Reilly,
or something that says "For Dummies" on the cover.
Yer average business software user gets a hurried
intro from a (sorta) knowledgeable cow-orker and
then makes-do with native intelligence (don't smirk),
online help (unless it's FrameMaker ... ok, smirk),
and the occasional call to the IS/IT Help Desk. The
odd clump of workers gets sent on a course and becomes
the defacto core of the (sorta) knowledgeable cow-orkers
mentioned above. If the missing/borrowed copies of
your beloved software manual (on which you worked so
hard) are ever found, they'll be dusty and have old
coffee mugs welded to their covers. A forensic exam
would likely reveal interior pages completely free
of smudges and fingerprints.
Now, there's still a market for your books out in
the land of the free-lancer and the worker in an
office that's too small for an IS dept., and that's
only because they buy software in singles, so the
books come with. If you really want your manual
to be read (if only in part, and then only grudgingly),
then write docs for developers.
They still need to look things up. Sometimes.
There. Hope I lifted everybody's spirits.
Disclaimer: The above is only my experience and
observation, and could possibly be inaccurate, but
I doubt it.
Ok, I'll close the door behind me. Resume coffee break.
kmclauchlan -at- chrysalis-its -dot- com