Re: Chapter Overviews

Subject: Re: Chapter Overviews
From: "Bonnie Granat" <bgranat -at- granatedit -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 22 Jul 2004 15:48:13 -0400

Chuck Martin wrote:
> Bonnie Granat wrote:
> <snip>
>> I have no statistics. Most textbooks have this feature (and many
>> other nonfiction books do, as well). Software manuals are closely
>> related to textbooks.
> I don't agree. Textbooks and software manuals are used in very
> different ways, in very different environments. Even their content is
> very different.

I see their being closely related in the fact that they both contain
factual information that people need to learn.

> Textbooks are very heavy on conceptual information. Also included:
> questions and problems. Software manuals are very heavy on procedural
> information.

A good software manual has enough conceptual information to inform new
users about various aspects that are important to know about the
software. Without any such information, one often has an inferior

> Textbooks are read to understand concepts or to learn information.
> Software manuals are accessed when a roadblock is encountered using a
> product.

A person who has had little exposure to an application (or to computers,
for that matter) can benefit from overview information that briefly
explains what the product can do and lets readers know how the manual
will lead them through instructions *and* conceptual information. Many
manuals contain both conceptual information and instructions/procedures.

>>> What I've seen, over and over (and seen reported even more often),
>>> is that people almost universally find out about an application by
>>> exploring it. (It's one thing that makes menus so useful, not that
>>> they are necessarily easy to use, but that they allow exploration of
>>> what an application can do.)
>> If a person is totally -- and I mean totally -- new to an
>> application, a good manual will introduce the reader to the product.
>> Sometimes people buy applications they know nothing at all about,
>> except perhaps that they've heard of it and decided it can help them
>> achieve some goal. A good manual can address such a person in the
>> Introduction.
> Sorry, but my experience is that even people in situations such as you
> describe still dive in to the product itself, expecting that the
> design will enable them to reach their goal.

Your description of your experience seems to indicate that you believe
novices are comfortable with diving in. It's been my experience that
novice users, and especially novice computer users, aren't necessarily
the types of users who have the ability or the courage to do that.

(That this expectation is
> frequently not met is a reality that is best left for a different
> discussion.)
>>> And then, for the few who might want to read the manual, front to
>>> back, to find out about the application, why would they reasonably
>>> want to find out about the manual? I mean, that's not why they are
>>> reading the manual, right?
>> A synopsis is helpful to me, personally, when I look at a textbook. A
>> scan through the TOC doesn't necessarily put the information into any
>> kind of context (especially highly technical information that might
>> be new to me). An Introduction does.
> From my own personal experience, when I buy a textbook for a class, I
> have no choice in the matter. An executive summary is irrelevant
> because my assignments will be to read the content that the
> instructor chooses. And when I'm faced with several hundred pages of
> reading during the
> course of a quarter or semester, especially if the content is highly
> technical, you can bet I'm not going to read extraneous stuff that has
> no relevance to my getting my homework done, learning the material,
> and getting a decent grade.
> --

When I buy a textbook for a class, I am interested in whatever the
instructor sees fit to put under my nose. I always check out what else
is in a book.

Bonnie Granat


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