RE: Getting rid of the manual

Subject: RE: Getting rid of the manual
From: "Schutz, Me" <me -dot- schutz -at- thermo -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2006 11:04:53 -0500

On Tue, 25 Jul 2006 09:54:53 -0600 "David Loveless"
<daveloveless -at- gmail -dot- com> writes in part:

My company is moving away from a printed user manual...Instead of a
manual, we are providing vastly updated and more complete Help
files...Has anyone out there done this, and what problems did you
encounter?...Is there any evidence or studies out there that compare the
value of a manual to a help file?

Hello Dave,

We also are in the process of eliminating paper manuals. One of the
biggest impediments is the nearly universal perception that Help is not
helpful. Unfortunately, for most products, the perception is reality.
Help is at best an afterthought, poorly written, poorly indexed,
difficult to navigate, and incomplete.

To change this view, we began moving detailed (hardware and software)
information out of the printed manual and instead providing a very
specific TOC or index entry reference to the on-line help with lead-ins
along the lines of "If you are unfamiliar with..." "For more detailed

Next, for many products, we made the *.pdf version of the User's Guide
available from the Help menu. "No need to hunt for lost manuals ever
again..." exhorts our Technical Support tutorial.

Both of these changes were made with the understanding that almost no
one reads manuals. (Yes, that includes our high-end scientist/academic
type customers...) Nearly everyone wants to intuitively operate the
instrument, software, etc. and go to the manual only as a last resort,
for instructions on some task they couldn't figure out on their
own...for troubleshooting to get them out of the mess they got
themselves into...Our young mad scientist customers, those who grew up
with videos and video games, would prefer not to read at
please...This in mind, both help and manual versions of information are
task/problem oriented and well illustrated.

A big key to the success of this venture has been a well-trained service
and sales force who tout the wonders of on-line at your
fingertips. And real, useful info content...

While I have not seen actual studies about the value of paper vs.
on-line, our customer survey showed folks were just as happy with a
searchable *.pdf manual...we ship installable Acrobat reader with each
software product...Some folk even asked did they have to take the paper
manuals? Theirs shelves were overfull as it was...So long as they could
print something, they were happy...and none made purchase decisions
based on documentation (unless they had had an absolutely horrid
experience with a particular company) or documentation format. None of
our sales offices were able to put a value in terms of increased
sales...or not lost paper manuals.

The exceptions to this scenario are the Safety Guide and the Declaration
of Conformity that continue to ship in paper form (as well as pdf) with
all products.

Hope that helps...

Mary Ellen Schutz
Sr. Technical Writer
Translation Coordinator
Thermo Electron Corporation
5225-4 Verona Road
Madison, WI 53711
Telephone: (608)276-6100 ext. 2339
Fax: (608)276-6328
me -dot- schutz -at- thermo -dot- com

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