RE: User Manual and Online Help

Subject: RE: User Manual and Online Help
From: "Glenn Maxey" <glenn -dot- maxey -at- voyanttech -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 4 May 2001 10:31:40 -0600

Hi Christine,

You might be a little bit too hard on those poor tech writers who provided
the same information in multiple formats.

Your real frustration was that you didn't find the information that you
needed; it wasn't that the information in the multiple formats was
identical. These are two entirely different issues. If you would have been
able to find the information that you needed in the first place you turned,
you wouldn't be complaining.

In today's IT world, users do not always have the benefit of having all of
the products documentation in their cubicles. If purchased with a company
licence, system administrators install the software on all computers. Few
users at the company are even aware that a printed manual might even exist.
(I haven't seen or had available in my neck of the cube farm any Windows,
Word, or Excel printed documentation in a couple of years.)

Speaking from a user's perspective: when I close online help and turn to a
manual, it's because either I'm tired of the online help obscuring my
computer desktop and the application itself, or I'm tired of reading it
online. I prop the book open, take it on the bus with me, read it in the
lunch room (or other rooms for "resting"), etc.

In fact, if I know the information is identical, it actually gives me peace
of mind that I can safely ignore the other media and not lose any

Nothing frustrates me more than having the printed manual say "this is
covered in the online help" or the online help saying "this is covered in
the printed manual." What if my computer isn't working? What if I inherited
the software and not the manual or in some way didn't have access to the
manual (as is often the case with site licenses and network installations)?
What if I prefer reading everything online? What if I prefer reading
everything in print?

Hence, don't confuse the issue of "not finding information" with the case
where the "information is identical in all media." The latter is actually a
benefit IMHO. The former is a bug no matter how you slice it and present it.

Glenn Maxey
Voyant Technologies, Inc.
Tel. +1 303.223.5164
Fax. +1 303.223.5275
glenn -dot- maxey -at- voyanttech -dot- com

> -----Original Message-----
> From: bounce-techwr-l-58477 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
> [mailto:bounce-techwr-l-58477 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com]On Behalf Of
> Christine -dot- Anameier -at- seagate -dot- com
> Sent: Friday, May 04, 2001 9:43 AM
> Subject: Re: User Manual and Online Help
> I agree with Geoff. Online help and printed manuals serve different
> purposes--they should not contain exactly the same material. (To me, "same
> material" includes the scenario where you use the same words but take the
> screenshots out.)

> As a user, I get really annoyed when I go through the documentation for a
> product and find the exact same verbiage in multiple media.

> I'll bet that company's tech writers
> were patting themselves on the back about how much time and effort they
> saved by reusing the same material in all those different docs.
> Speaking from a user's perspective: when I put down a manual and turn to
> online help (or some other different genre of documentation), it's because
> either I'm looking for a different type of information, or the information
> I found in the manual didn't help me. Either way, it doesn't help me to
> have the same material in both places.
> Speaking from a tech writer's perspective: this is why I regard "single
> sourcing" conversion tools (like the ones that automatically turn
> a WinHelp
> file into "printed documentation" or vice versa) as worse than useless.


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Re: User Manual and Online Help: From: Christine . Anameier

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