Differences between training guide vs user's guide?

Subject: Differences between training guide vs user's guide?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 17 Aug 2005 10:39:17 -0400

Daniel Ng wondered: <<My team and I are beginning to start work on a training guide. They have already started working on their individual topics in Chinese based on the English template which I created. I will be working alone in ENglish for now.>>

Off topic, but of interest to me and possibly others: I've been told by several Chinese colleagues that Chinese readers are now so accustomed to English rhetorical styles and instructional approaches in user manuals that they simply accept the English approach rather than requiring or preferring a fully localized version that takes advantage of Chinese rhetorical and pedagogical approaches. How true is this in your experience? How would you describe these differences? (Private reply would be fine.)

On to your actual question: <<Our software system already has a User's Guide or online Help (RoboHelp, compiled help chm). When writing the Training Guide, it seems like I am rewriting my user manual all over again...>>

The two should achieve entirely different purposes. Consider the following example: In a training guide, you might teach someone about using the online Help (something I highly recommend for beginner audiences): how to open the Help menu, the different options available under that menu, how context-sensitive help works, how to use the index vs. the search function, and so on. In a reference manual, you would not do this.

See the difference? A training guide teaches someone the basics of how to interact with the software; the reference (user's) guide provides detailed instruction for someone who already knows the basics of how to use the software. So for example, you would _train_ me to use menus and the keyboard and dialog box to print a Word file; after that, the user's manual would explain all the options in the Print dialog (every field, every button, etc.).

<<We will provide this training guide to supplement our Project staff when they deploy the software and train clients.>>

Since you'll be working with these people, make sure to spend time with these people finding out their needs and the needs of the people they will be training. This information is what lets you produce documentation that meets their actual needs, rather than making potentially incorrect assumptions about their needs. We often fail when we assume that we understand our audience.

<<I feel uneasy that it may not be a good idea in the long term (duplicating information).>>

Some duplication is inevitable, but you're right that you shouldn't be wasting a lot of time doing things twice. Understanding the difference between training and reference material (see above) helps. In some cases, it will still be appropriate and helpful to repeat information; in that case, do so. If you'll be doing it a lot, investigate the possibility of various forms of "single sourcing" (reuse of content in different contexts).

<<Our users are majority of of low education (some illilterate), although manager/supervisor levels will have no problem reading. Though I suspect the training will mostly benefit supervisors and managers.>>

Make sure that you understand which audience you're actually writing for, since their needs will clearly differ. If most of your audience are "low education", prioritize their needs: something that works for them will also work, even if less well, for the managers, but if you focus on the needs of the managers, it won't work at all for the majority of your audience. You may need to create a separate document just for the managers that focuses on their specific needs.

If most of your audience is low-literacy, emphasize the use of graphics rather than text. One very powerful approach (supported well by many Dutch studies, including some with Asian audiences, I believe) is to use screenshots, with callouts (text plus arrows) pointing at specific areas of the screen and stating explicitly (and concisely) what the reader should do. It's unlikely that you can use an entirely graphical approach (i.e., you'll have to combine text and graphics for most things), but you can certainly emphasize the graphics.

Another key point: For an audience like the one you describe, ask yourself the following question: "What information does the reader need to understand the instructions I will present?" That is, explicitly identify your assumptions, and state those assumptions clearly. The audience will not know what you are assuming until you tell them, so tell them!

<<Do I document every dialog/field/ screen, or am I focused on user interaction flow alone.>>

In a training guide, emphasize the overall flow: what do I do and why? The advocates of minimalism (the excellent work of Carroll and van der Meij) have clearly demonstrated that adult learners learn well by exploring the software once they understand the what and why. So focus on that, and design your training to support this kind of learning by exploration. The user manual supports that exploration by answering questions that come up as they explore.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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Differences between Training guide vs User's Guide: From: Daniel Ng

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