Re: Minimal Contents of a Operation/User Manual

Subject: Re: Minimal Contents of a Operation/User Manual
From: "Jeanne A. E. DeVoto" <jaed -at- jaedworks -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 7 Jul 2004 02:01:01 -0700

At 7:30 AM -0600 7/6/2004, bconnatser -at- epri-peac -dot- com wrote:

My employer received a machine that we specified and another company build
under contract. The contract called for an operations manual. The machine
is very complex, but we received only a one-page (very general) operation
manual. He has asked me to determine the prevailing definition of an
operation/user manual by content.

I don't think there's an industry standard definition, because the required content in such a manual depends so intimately on the situational context.

I'd say that an adequate user manual contains enough information to allow the intended user to use the functions of the device. (The distinction between "adequate" and "superior", for me, has to do with how the material is organized and whether it's presented in a form that's easily absorbed and used.) So I would ask three questions to determine whether a given user manual is adequate:

1. Who is the intended user? That is, what skills and knowledge is the user expected to bring to the task? (A user manual intended for a skilled machinist will necessarily be different from one intended for an unskilled novice, for example. If you can assume the user has certain skills and knowledge already, you won't need to explain certain things.)

2. What are the functions of the device?

3. Does the manual adequately explain, to the target user, how to use those functions? If not, I would say it's not adequate.

It would be reasonable to ask the contractor for their answers to questions 1 and 2 as well. It may well be that they're making different assumptions about the knowledge level of users, the functions that need to be documented, or both.
jeanne a. e. devoto ~ jaed -at- jaedworks -dot- com


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