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Subject:RE: help From:"SCHUTZ, ME" <me -dot- schutz -at- thermo -dot- com> To:"TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com> Date:Tue, 11 May 2004 09:58:12 -0500
Peggy A Lucero writes:
I've written new user guides for various sections of a naval medical
and am now trying to determine best practice/method to get our user
community to read them!
Once upon a time, many moons ago, there was a tech writer producing
documentation for the Desktop I contract with the Air Force. At that
time, there were a gazillion hardware setting changes that needed to be
made to hard disk drives in order for them to work properly...And the
settings changed depending upon the make and model of other drives
installed in the computer.
A young lieutenant colonel, in charge of the documentation review,
insisted at the outset of the project that there be very few procedures
and very few entries in the table of contents. Following orders (not an
easy thing for the erstwhile, aging hippie), the documentation was
produced as requested.
Time came to test the documentation...and lo and behold, not a single
hard disk drive spun up when the computer was turned on.
"Did they follow the instructions?", asked the tech writer.
"I don't know", answered the lt. colonel.
A second test, complete with orders that they follow the directions,
step-by-step, and highlight the "bad " parts...and lo and behold, every
single hard disk drive spun up when the computer was turned on.
"But there was nothing in the book that made us think we actually had to
read it!", was the only comment. Seems they had gotten to the first
illustration, then went their own way...
A quick re-work, breaking the instructions into procedures with 10 or
fewer steps, adding headings to the TOC...Unpacking, Configuring the
drive, Configuring the computer, Installing the drive, Configuring the
BIOS, Configuring the software...
A third test, with a new set of technicians...an lo and behold, every
single hard disk drive spun up when the computer was turned on....
Bottom line...Nobody, myself included, wants to read directions. We all
want to use the "stuff" we just got. Understanding that, my goal in
documenting a product is to make it easy for the end user to find the
information they need to get themselves out of whatever mess they got
into with the least amount of pain, frustration, and damage to the
system. Make it easy to find the answers to questions WHEN THEY
ARISE...with the understanding that they have not (and probably never
will...unless they require a sleep aid) read my manual cover-to-cover.
Until a problem arose, they probably never cracked the book open.
Remember, you are fighting a plethora of previous experience that
says...whatever I need to know won't be in there anyway...so why bother
How to get them to read?
Keep your document to the point...use words only when pictures can't
completely tell the story...
Search you document for...and eliminate...will, may, should, could,
Make it easy to find answers, TOC, accurate index...
Make it easy to get an overview of just what it is they need to do to
successfully use whatever it is you're documenting.
Best to you...
Mary Ellen Schutz
Sr. Technical Writer
Thermo Electron Corporation
5225-4 Verona Road
Madison, WI 53711
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