Tech writers vs. users?

Subject: Tech writers vs. users?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 4 Jun 2002 08:54:09 -0400

Jim Shaeffer posits: <<Tech writers, more than the general population, tend
to derive intrinsic satisfaction from learning about new
technologies and mastering the best way to use what they learn. The general
population is more likely to proceed by 'satisficing', that is, learning
enough to get by and not going further.>>

That's certainly been my experience; I constantly amaze my authors with my
dexterity in MS Word, and I consider myself only marginally a power user. A
recent article in Tech. Comm. (a usability test of browser-based help)
provides more concrete evidence in this direction, along with additional
citations of other research with similar conclusions. The author
(paraphrased) basically pointed out that while we're not wasting our time
creating WinHelp-style online documentation, we'd do a much better job of
meeting user needs if we focused on embedded help and improved interfaces.

<<Tech writers, therefore, make the mistaken assumption that users naturally
want to learn the good stuff found in the documentation.>>

Alas, it's the only assumption we have to work on. <g>

<<the article on the Paradox of the Active User

I don't think it's so much a paradox as it is a myth, but the article is
currently in my "read it real soon now" pile.

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada
"User's advocate" online monthly at
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a
personality, and an obnoxious one at that."--Kim Roper

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