Lots of forms?

Subject: Lots of forms?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 6 Feb 2001 08:50:48 -0500

Kelly Williamson has <<... converted a very large, unorganized, paper manual
to a searchable, indexed, online manual (WebHelp) a few months ago adding as
much organization/structure as time allowed. The resulting manual is to be

viewed
on CD by approximately 100 employees and is to be updated quarterly. There
were about 75 or so forms... I made a nice, clean version of each form, gave
each one a standard title that is used throughout the manual now, and put a
revision date at the bottom of each form... but my instinct told me to at
least get away from descriptive file names such as MyExpenseReport.doc and
use formA.doc, formB, etc. with a cross reference sheet detailing what is
what.>>

My initial reaction is that you shouldn't trust your instincts here. A
cross-reference sheet certainly does the job, but should the sheet ever get
lost or (if online) corrupted, who's going to remember the difference
between Form A and Form AA in 2 years? The advantage of "MyExpenseReport" is
that nobody ever needs to look up the meaning, and removing the step of
forcing someone to consult a lookup table is a kindness to busy users of
your manual. My second reaction is that if the online manual is well
organized, it should be easy for users to find the correct form simply by
navigating down through the hierarchy; in that case, the names become
irrelevant.

<<Now the users are asking if they can copy the forms (just the forms) from
the CDs to their hard drives since they are the most frequently used portion
of the manual and it would be quicker for them. However, they would like the
forms to thus have descriptive names and I'm sure would like to go back to
the MyExpenseReport.doc file naming system. >>

That makes perfect sense to me; I'd hate to have to find a CD, insert it,
scan through a long lookup table to find which cryptic codename represents
the expense account form, and launch the form. I'd rather simply open a
logically named file stored on my hard drive. But as for "asking" to copy
the forms to their hard drives, how are you going to stop them? If the forms
are available on the CD, anyone with rudimentary computer skills can simply
copy the forms and name them whatever they like. (Unless the forms are
somehow embedded in the WebHelp file, in which case, it's still easy to copy
the whole file onto their hard drives.)

<<However, they would like the forms to thus have descriptive names and I'm
sure would like to go back to the MyExpenseReport.doc file naming system. I
am leery of doing this as I'm sure we'll have millions of different versions
floating around again, people will probably start calling them different
things again, and users will "forget" to overwrite the old forms on their
hard drives when the new CDs come out, etc.>>

Since version control seems to be a potentially serious problem, and since
CDs cost money to produce, the solution is likely to dump the CDs in favor
of some kind of intranet solution. If you already have everyone hooked up to
a single network, then all you need to do is update the files once (in a
convenient, readily accessible directory on the server), and the forms are
up to date as soon as you post them to the server--for everyone who uses the
server-based version of that form. If you have users at several widely
distributed offices, the solution is the same, but in this case, you simply
e-mail the updated forms to the person responsible for each local network.
In fact, your network manager probably has a nifty utility that
automatically updates specific files on all computers connected to the
network; we have such a program running here, and I could find out what it's
called if you're interested.

<<BTW, these are VERY novice computer users we're talking about.>>

Yet novices gradually lose their newbie status, and develop the courage to
begin playing around with computer settings that don't satisfy them. Which
suggests you need to adopt a solution that encourages them to adopt the
behavior you want them to adopt (using a single form at a central location)
rather than looking for ways to subvert the system.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at
www.raycomm.com/techwhirl/usersadvocate.html

"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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