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We have recently completed an on-line help system ( 275 topics) for a new
software program. What with feature creep, a product name change and
delayed technical edits the help files were in a state of flux. I can live
with that. We chose not to do copy edits until all the necessary changes
in screen captures and text were complete.
As these things happen, the marketing types arranged to have what they
termed as a usability test - before the final program was finished (much
less matching help). We had 2 days to prepare for this, knowing that the
day the software was to be sent to the tester, the 'final' program would
be sent to us to document and change about half of the screen captures. We
chose not to copy edit, but to ensure links and browse sequences were
intact and that the screen captures in the help matched the program
version we would send to the tester. I communicated to the marketing
coordinator (company policy is to direct all communication through one
person) that the help was a long way from polished, but we would like
information on how the navigation was, writing style and if the layout was
good. Were we effective in meeting the needs of an audience that is 50%
overseas and a wide range of techncial competence? We chose to use HTML
based help and I would really like to know if the layout is appropriate as
we used lots of graphics.
What we received was an "Heuristic Evaluation" which touched somewhat on
the navigation and a great deal on the copyediting. There was no mention
of anything that we had done correctly. I was greatly disappointed.
I think there were some major communication problems between what we (the
writers) wanted and what the outside company intended to provide. My
supervisor is trying to assess if we should do this again. The cost was
$4000 and we waited one week for the response, by which time all the
copyediting and some of the navigation had been addressed. My initial
reaction is that this was a waste of money, and we should never do this
again unless we have a fully finished product, but I would like to draw on
your collective expertise:
What should we have expected from the outside agency under these decidedly
Alternatively, were we mistaken to ignore the copy editing and expecting
too much from the outside agency?
We have a meeting with the outside company in 2 weeks to discuss the
results that were delivered to us.
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