Technical writers and multimedia?

Subject: Technical writers and multimedia?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 8 Aug 2002 10:59:36 -0400

David McMurrey teaches <<...technical-writing courses at Austin Community
College. In trying to upgrade our courses, we're considering a course that
shows people how to develop simple multimedia training/tutorials with
applications like Premiere, Real products, SnagIt, etc. But how much are
technical writers involved in producing multimedia-based user documents?>>

I'm deeply involved in producing multimedia, from the scriptwriting and
storyboarding stages right through to the prototyping and editing stages.
We've only done a couple projects thus far, but expect them to become
increasingly common in the future. One important note, though: these are not
"multimedia documents" in the user manual sense, but rather standalone
instructional materials.

I'm skeptical about the use of multimedia in "user manual" documentation;
the studies I've seen (most notably one by Jared Spool at UIE) show that
people prefer it to traditional documentation, but actually perform worse
using it. This isn't an inherent limitation of the technology, but rather an
inappropriate use of it; for example, with narrated help systems, too much
mental effort is devoted to paying attention to the talking heads
(particularly if they're "cute" <g>) or listening to voices and not enough
mental effort is spent concentrating on the facts.

For prototyping, you might want to start your students off with much simpler
tools than Premiere and other true multimedia tools, which are more
complicated to learn and in (relatively) lower demand. You can assemble
powerful, interactive prototypes much faster using PowerPoint or an HTML
authoring tool such as Dreamweaver. Once you've got a working prototype,
move the design over to Premiere or Flash for production. Of the two, Flash
is the better choice. First, Premiere is more oriented towards producing
"movies", and thus must be kludged to produce interactivity; Authorware is a
much better multimedia tool. Second, Flash offers more bells and whistles
for true interactive multimedia, and is in much higher demand in the
industry because it ties so well into Web applications. What's cool is that
Flash also makes really good standalone, CD-based presentations.

--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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