Re:Newbie looking for help on user guides/manuals

Subject: Re:Newbie looking for help on user guides/manuals
From: CHRISTINE ANAMEIER <CANAMEIE -at- email -dot- usps -dot- gov>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 12 Mar 2002 12:42:55 -0500


Alan wrote:
> I was wondering if I could get any pointers to the
> different kinds of styles for writing user guides. For
> instance, I have noticed that some user guides take
> you through each task that the user might want to
> perform, while others simply describe the UI
> components and what can be done with these components.

There have been a number of discussions on this list about those two
approaches... I started a thread last year, "task-based vs. descriptive online
help":
http://www.raycomm.com/techwhirl/archives/0103/techwhirl-0103-00285.html

(You'll have to dig around a little to pick up the whole thread -- use "next by
thread" and then check out the thread index when you run out of replies. There
are other threads on this topic, but that's the one I remember off the top of my
head.)

> The [user guide] we have currently is simply
> an Adobe Acrobat file with bookmarks. We are getting
> inclined to replace it with a guide created in
> RoboHELP. However, I have no experience in technical
> writing, specifically, writing user manuals.

In RoboHelp you would have an online help system, which is a different animal
from a user guide--less linear, for starters. It would be worth researching the
differences between online and print documentation to see which you need (or
both). (I know... that doesn't answer your question, but that's a bigger and
broader question than I want to try and answer in a list post. Maybe someone
else will tackle it.)

> Finally, I was wondering where I can find some very
> good sample user guides. I considered going through the user
> guides of the Microsoft products I have installed on
> my PC, but I am not sure whether this would be the
> right approach.

Personally, I find the Microsoft docs--and indeed ANY docs I have lying
around--useful as a sample. I read them, react to them, and start from there:
what did I find helpful? What did I not find helpful? (Or what did I feel a
beginner would not find helpful? I try to read docs with the eyes of a novice
rather than those of the geek I am.) Where were the gaps? And I've learned from
that exercise. Like many on the list, I've had no formal training in tech
writing; I picked it up on my own by looking at existing documentation and
getting to understand what works and what doesn't.

> I did try searching through the list's archives, but
> was unable to find anything very relevant to the kind
> of questions I have.

When you search, make sure the Search Years field isn't limiting you to one year
(it defaults to 1993-- change it to "entire archive"). You might also try
browsing month-by-month through the archives and checking out threads that look
relevant. (Time-consuming, but there's a lot of information there.)

HTH,
Christine
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