RE: Do as they say, not as they do

Subject: RE: Do as they say, not as they do
From: Madelyn Boudreaux <MBoudreaux -at- Ovid -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 5 Feb 2003 18:13:32 -0700

So, what is one to do, as a USER, when one finds a gaping hole in the
documentation of a major company's product?

Due directly to some recent posts here, I've been thinking very differently
about the documentation I use daily (as well as the documentation I'm
writing), and discovering that whereas before when trying to follow
directions, I was left with an uneasy feeling or a sense of incompleteness
in some cases, now I am more aware of why the documentation left me cold.
(Ok, so maybe I have too many emotions tied into my reading of technical

In the past 3 days, I've come across two major holes in documents from
companies from which I would expect more.

One was in Microsoft Word, directing me to update something manually but no
amount of searching in the help ever told me how to do so, and no amount of
right-clicking, menu exploring, F9ing, or swearing seemed to help.

The other was from Canon (accompanying my brand new 6-color printer with
separate ink cartridges, the selection of which was also related to this
list, although the fact that my HP died that night was completely
coincidental... I hope), telling me what to do when my nozzle alignment page
printed correctly but not how to deal with the fact that it most certainly
did NOT print correctly, despite my careful following of every previous
step. A shame, too, because I found most of that document useful, but it
failed me in my moment of need.

(Of course, when I buy something cheap from a company without a major market
share, I expect much less from the documentation, understanding that the
writer might also be the president of the company, a janitor, a high school
student, a non-native writer of English, or all of the above.)

Past experience suggests that if I lodge a complaint about these problems,
I'll get some generic email about it, and never hear another word, and never
find out if my problem 1) existed between the chair and keyboard or 2) was a
real problem addressed by a real writer somewhere, or some other darker
possibility I prefer not to think about such as 3) was giggled at or 4) was

I hate hearing that I made a mistake! It's embarrassing! But I hate more
hearing that I made a mistake and that users were out there trying to
grapple with my mistake when I could have fixed it if only someone (myself,
or an editor, or a QA analyst, or anyone!) had seen it earlier. That's not
only embarrassing, but I feel for the users, since I spend about 16 hours a
day as a user of various products and applications, and poor documentation
makes me mad, slows my ability to get work done, and makes my blood pressure

- Madelyn

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