DMS user's guide - how big should it be?

Subject: DMS user's guide - how big should it be?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "'Ballenberger Gerd'" <Gerd -dot- Ballenberger -at- med -dot- siemens -dot- de>
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2000 09:19:57 -0400

Gerd Ballenberger is <<...in the process of switching from FrameMaker to
FrameMaker+SGML, and introducing a Document Management System... It's my
task to produce the written User's Guide... The user's guide is now 330 PDF
pages with bookmarks which I believe to be as good as an HTML navigation
frame (an HTML version with an index will come soon). I've been trying to
_guide_ the users and explain to them not only what they have to do but also
why. I want them to become competent users - not blind slaves of the system.
Still, some users (and management) question the size of the guide. They want
concise procedures, which may be OK for some users, but not for all.>>

Sounds like your solution is already present in the way you framed your
question: use bookmarks. What you end up with is a guide composed of two
sorts of pages:
- concise, summary pages for those who already know what they're doing, with
a "why do we do this" link and a "more details" link at the bottom of the
page
- the pages readers access using these links (i.e., one or more pages to
explain the logic, and one or more pages that provide details).
In effect, all the reader sees at first glance is the concise summary
management wants, and by pressing the page down key, move from one concise
summary to the next. But those who need more information on any page can
link directly to the additional information they need. This structure will
also logically translate well into HTML.

<<Another argument is that we have training classes, so why do we need a
user's guide?>>

Ask the person who objects to the user's guide if they remember the
quadratic formula they learned about in highschool math class, or the
definition of electronegativity plus at least one sample value for any
element (from highschool chemistry). If they can't answer instantly and
flawlessly from memory, point out that this is exactly what's going to
happen to most users within a week after training, let alone a year from
now. I've seen various studies reported (none attributed or backed by the
literature, so take them with a grain of salt) that people can easily forget
50% of what they learned within a week of leaving the class. (The numbers
vary: sometimes higher, sometimes lower, sometimes faster, sometimes
slower.)

<<In short: how long may/must/should a user's guide for a our DMS be?>>

Long enough to meet the needs of the majority (ideally, all) of your
audience. There's no magic number for length.

<<Am I overdoing it?>>

Can't say that without seeing your manual (_not_ an offer!!! <g>), but your
logic is sound.

<<What is the "leading" user support tool, training or manual?>>

A manual. Training doesn't "support" users; it gets them ready to go ahead
and do work, and while they're working, they'll use the support material.
Different situations, different needs, different solutions.

<<Do I have to rewrite the guide to simply support the training?>>

That's one approach, and can work quite well if the course precisely matches
the student's daily work experience, but strictly speaking, a training
manual is not a support manual: training manuals support the classroom
experience (learning how to use something), whereas user/support manuals
support on the job work (actually using the something). These are generally
completely different contexts, thus represent different needs.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer




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