RE: Do I have to understand the material?

Subject: RE: Do I have to understand the material?
From: Allen Schaaf <soundbyte -at- sound-by-design -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2002 22:01:15 -0700

At 09:15 AM 8/20/02, Sean Hower wrote:

Comments follow:

Kent wrote:
More to the point, if the tech writer is indeed a good user, he or she is still a sample of one. ... The point, then, is manuals should be tested. By users. And, for heaven's sake, don't think the subject matter expert is a user--he or she knows too much and isn't objective.

Don't know if this has been said already, but,
unless you have experience using the product in a "live" environment, and have experience working in that environment, you're not a user, you're still just an employee writing about a product. Sure, you may have the user's perspective in mind. You may even have a really good idea about the users, through contextual inquiry, ethnographic research, site visits, what have you.....but you're just not a user. :-( It's cruel, but true (as we used to say in 5th grade). I find any information gathered from internal "users" suspect, mostly because unless they are using the product in the same environment as the customers, the employees just aren't objective. They'll have access to resources and information that the normal/average user won't. They will have probably had many experiences with the product that the user wouldn't have, or shouldn't have....

You betcha'. This is such common thinking at companies that before they have released their product, they are already using crutches because they shot themselves in the foot.

Allen wrote:
Amen! Software is QA'd, why not manuals?
The lack of end user input in manual production is the weakest link in tech pubs, but get a manager to understand and provide time for it? Pigs'll fly first.

It's not necessarily management, but upper management...the ones controling the money. They make the decisions, based on their understanding of the ROI involved. If they don't understand that user testing for manuals can have an ROI, then it's our job to demonstrate it. :-) (Not tell, demonstrate. Words are a weak tool in this respect, demonstrations are not.) Educate, negotiate, cajole, you know, get them to see things your way. If they don't, it's their's their decision. We are working for them. While it's our job to help them make a better product, it's also our job to do what they want. They're the client. The client is always right....even when they're wrong. <sigh />


Allen responds:

The resistance of lower management is merely a reflection of the ignorance of what the company does, in reality, by upper management.

Lower management is not going to fight with their bosses because they might be perceived as "difficult" and out they go.

The only success I have ever had on this issue is by talking with SQA/Tech Support and get them to add to their trouble tickets a box that says something like: "Material was in manual: Did customer find the correct section? Did customer understand what they read?" I would like a little more than this, but it gave me a metric on what percentage of tech support calls were manual issues of either bad indexing or poorly (from the end user's POV) explained functionality.

At one place they admitted that support calls cost as a bare minimum $25 each, and some would cost anywhere up to a $1000 dollars or so to resolve.

If you can get metrics like this, you can push for better review of manuals. However, I will note that I have never succeeded in getting end user reviews.

ILM gets end users in to test their games and see if odd-ball key strokes cause failure or if there are confusing parts of the game that the end user just doesn't get. If they can do this, why can't the rest of the tech industry?

Allen Schaaf
Sr. Tech Writer
Currently looking for work.

Who says bad manuals aren't a risk to your life? Just ask the passengers of the jet where the engine caught fire because the company's maintenance manual was wrong about how to install one key bolt. (NTSB Report on GE CF6 engine fire, American Airlines flight 574, July 9, 1998. <>)

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RE: Do I have to understand the material?: From: Sean Hower

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