Re: encouraging learning by experimentation?

Subject: Re: encouraging learning by experimentation?
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher5 -at- cox -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 05 Dec 2002 10:58:48 -0800

In practical terms, has anyone tried to encourage
experimentation by users in user docs? How do you
approach error recovery?
Yes, I have. It can be an effective technique and can
cut the size of the docs down considerably, but it has
to be appropriate for the target audience.

For example, a typical software dialog box has a list
and Add, Edit, Delete, and Close buttons. In conventional
documentation, you would include separate procedures to
add something to the list (click Add, fill in stuff,
click ok), edit something on the list (select, click
edit, change stuff, click ok), and delete something
from the list (select, click delete, confirm). This is
straight-forward procedural documentation that we're
all familiar with.

Now, say your audience is supposed to be pretty software
savvy -- maybe they're sysadmins. Do you really need to
spell out the edit and delete procedures? Make your own
decision based on your audience, but if you decide not...

Once you spell out the step-by-step to add something to
the list, you minimalize the rest:

You can also edit and delete selected items
from the list using this dialog box.

And to support error recovery, you say:

Feel free to experiment with the list. The
system offers multiple levels of Undo.


Delete with caution. Items deleted from the
list cannot be recovered.

Again, these techniques are not appropriate for all
audiences. You have to decide that. But that's a way to
do it that I've used and that seems to be effective for
some audiences.

-Sue Gallagher

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encouraging learning by experimentation?: From: Lois Patterson

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