Re: Advocating Documentation and Support

Subject: Re: Advocating Documentation and Support
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2001 10:42:28 -0800 (PST)

"Jeff Hanvey" wrote...

> One person, for example, says, "None. Caveat Emptor.
> If you lack the brains to figure it out,
> don't buy it, or hire someone to do it. Geez."

This person is right, to a certain extent. If you're going to buy an expensive,
complex piece of equipment or software, you should be forced to become
proficient. You couldn't (legally) go out and rent a bulldozer and just doze
around the neighborhood.

People buy these systems and think they should be able to plug them and they
should instantly work. People berate Microsoft to death for their "shoddy"
because it doesn't instantly do what they want. Yet those same people will
extol the virtues of something like Linux, which is extremely difficult to use.

> Another point that was made is that users seldom read the manual:
> they will call to ask even the
> simplest things. What does this say about our
> profession and how can we change this perception?

What is says is that too many documents instruct readers rather than educating
them. I can't tell you how many manuals I read that are just non-stop lists of
instructions. There is little if any context to those instructions.

I think this is the outcome of documentation teams that do not understand their
products. They think instructions are the only method to help readers. Rather
that explaining WHY the software does what it does, they just document HOW.
Point here, click there, enter your name, hit OK, thanks for buying our
product, here's our web address, the end.

I've read probably every network security product manual out there. Very few
of them describe what to do if you're playing an on-line game like Quake III or
Half-Life. DUH. Probably 75% of the users of network security products are
gamers. Its no wonder they're always calling support. Clearly the tech writers
were more concerned with the purity of their FrameMaker template than actually
paying attention to the needs of the users.

As for whether docs should be a profit or cost center...I think this can go
both ways. With the cost of *decent* documentation rising I can imagine
companies want to find ways to offset those costs.

Andrew Plato

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