RE: How do you read a User Manual

Subject: RE: How do you read a User Manual
From: "Mike O." <obie1121 -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 2004 14:54:55 -0700 (PDT)

John Posada wrote:
> Hi, guys...I'm having a discussion with someone at
> my company, and unfortunately, he's several layers
> above me in the company pecking order, so I have to
> be careful how I approach this with him.

> In a nutshell, he's telling me that users will approach
> a User's Manual and read it like a novel...they start
> from the from and read it page after page.

This is how managers read user manuals.

> My position is that readers enter the book at any place
> that contains the content to address their issue at hand.

This is how people who actually need to USE the software read user
manuals. Usually after some manager tells them something like "Install
this new server and set up these user accounts ASAP!!"

> The impact to this is that he feels information should
> be organized so that as you get further in the book, you
> can assume the person already knows whatever it is about
> the application that got them to that point and never have
> to address it again, even in passing.

For simple user manuals, lately I like to use a modular approach where
all the info is contained within its own topic, but the outline is
constrained to H1/H2. That way the reader can find meaningful topic
names by just scanning the TOC, which is what they do anyway.

> I'm taking the position that anywhere in the book,
> they need to know something about what got them
> there, either in description or through sufficient
> cross-referencing (which he also dislikes).

What you are describing is trending toward a fractal information model
where every topic needs to contain all the information of all topics.
That gets messy fast, and eliminates any efficiency you would otherwise
gain from modular topics. I'll admit though that cross-referencing may
be unavoidable for bigger complex docs.

> Opinions?

This sounds like a discussion that doesn't really need to take place
just now. Just write it how you think best and your manager will
probably like it.

Mike O.

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