Interface vs. Documentation

Subject: Interface vs. Documentation
From: Christine Pellar-Kosbar <chrispk -at- merit -dot- edu>
To: SusanH -at- cardsetc -dot- com -dot- au
Date: Wed, 26 Jan 2000 09:59:03 -0500

Okay. . .

SusanH -at- cardsetc -dot- com -dot- au wrote:

> Jo Bryd wrote
> <<Your point, Eric, illustrates one of my pet theories about technical
> writers,
> especially those of us who write directions for a living - and do it very
> well.
> We're the worst in the world when it comes to reading directions.>>
> I go further than Jo... we are not "the worst in the world".. we are simply
> like the whole world when it comes to reading directions (or anything
> else).. Few people want to read to do or even learn to do unless they are
> forced to... quite a challenge when you think of the implications for what
> we spend our lives producing.

This brings me to a question I've been planning to post for a couple of weeks
-- the issue of people preferring anything to reading the docs. A friend of
mine has recently been asked by management for his thoughts on what the next
priorities should be for documentation. His thoughts are that the
documentation would be far more useful if the product had a useful interface.
Currently, the product he documents cannot be configured without prior
knowledge of the product, sample configurations taken from training or a
friend, or the documentation. Once you install this product, you get a
confirmation and then a blank screen. You type in the commands, options and
variables from memory or notes, much like you would type a program. At each
line, you have several, sometimes hundreds, of options.

My friend feels there should be some assistance to the user, if not menus and
prompts, something that is quicker than searching through the documentation --
some sort of context-sensitive help.

Now, the audience is of mixed background knowledge, but most are experienced
programmers. The management wonders if experienced programmers would want this
sort of assistance. After all, the management reasons, they are used to

What do you think?

Christine Pellar-Kosbar

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