Do you tell them?

Subject: Do you tell them?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 28 Jul 2003 10:07:17 -0400

John Posada wondered: <<I'm writing and/or updating 15 FM books. I have a
web site where I post a PDF of each book. On a rotating basis, I'll update
and rePDF anywhere from 1 to 4 books every day or every couple of days. The
problems is that telling a distribution of 20 or so people and/or Exchange
distribution lists means that almost everyday, a whole bunch of people are
hearing that such and such documents have been updated...and after awhile,
the notices just become noise.>>

One thing you should consider (from the reader's standpoint) is why the
books are changing so frequently. Use this understanding of their needs as
the basis for a triage approach (essential notifications, useful
notifications, and unnecessary notes):

If the software is being patched on an ongoing basis, and your changes
reflect critical information that users of the software (developers,
in-house testers, etc.) need to know, then notify them as soon as the
updates become available. If you only send out notices of critical updates,
you greatly reduce the amount of "noise" and focus the reader's limited
time/attention on your note.

If the changes reflect the fact that you're building a book from scratch,
and adding new sections as you go, then it's probably safe to simply provide
a link to the documentation (perhaps from within the software under
development?) on the network, and let people open the latest copy whenever
they need to access the docs. You can count on them to open the docs when
they need to, and thus don't need to notify them. Ask them to notify you if
they don't find what they're looking for and you'll also start building a
model of what parts of the documentation are most important to them and
should be worked on as a priority.

Last but not least, if you're simply improving already-adequate and accurate
docs by making them more consistent, editing existing descriptions, applying
a more effective visual design, font fondling, etc., then you probably don't
need to notify anyone at all. Simply send out an initial note that the most
recent versions of the docs will always be available at [describe location
on your network]. Better still, tell them in person as part of your ongoing
maintenance of your relationship with these people.

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
(try ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca if you get no response)
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada

"Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the
earth's surface relative to other matter; second, telling other people to do
so. The first is unpleasant and ill-paid; the second is pleasant and highly
paid."--Bertrand Russell


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