Re: Getting rid of the manual

Subject: Re: Getting rid of the manual
From: Keith Hood <klhra -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "List,Techwriter" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 25 Jul 2006 14:14:49 -0700 (PDT)

I once worked for a company that decided to stop using
printed documents, to reduce costs. We used to
publish *big* user guides, that contained both how-two
procedures and reference information about the
product. When we went to electronic documents, we
separated them. All the how-to stuff went into the
online help, and the reference material was put in a
PDF. The topics in the online help gave the user just
enough background material about the "why" of the
product to make it easier to understand the reasons
why the procedures were written as they were.

We also realized in advance the problem that others
have pointed out, that of not being able to access
troubleshooting information if the information is
available only electronically and the system crashes.
I was able to convince my boss of the need to keep
publishing a "survival" guide in hard copy. It
contained emergency procedures such as troubleshooting
and recovering from a system crash - the idea was to
give the user a printed document that would help him
get the system back to life enough in order to access
the rest of the help. We were using Framemaker so we
could use conditional text to make it possible to turn
out different sets of info chunks for the different

Unfortunately, I didn't stay at that job long enough
after we implemented this system to get any feedback
from the customers. The crash of ought-one hit about
eight months after we put this new document scheme
into effect.

Separating the "how" information from the "doit" made
it easier to plan the layouts of the documents. There
were fewer concerns with cross-references and indexing
each was a lot easier.

I don't have any empirical evidence to back it up, but
from working with computer users, I believe most
serious users prefer having a decent online help than
a printed user manual, if only because they don't have
to turn away from the screen to find the information
they want. It's more natural to them to navigate to
the necessary information by mouse clicking than by
digging through bookshelves and page turning. The
management types are usually the ones more concerned
about whether or not they get hard copy documentation
- getting fewer physical items gives them the feeling
they're getting less product. (I know that may sound
like a Dilbertesque description of PHB thinking, but
in my experience it seems to hold true.)


Keith Hood
Senior (only) tech writer
ACS, Inc.

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Getting rid of the manual: From: David Loveless

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