Re: getting experience with expensive tools

Subject: Re: getting experience with expensive tools
From: TECHWR-L Administrator <admin -at- techwr-l -dot- com>
To: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 16 Mar 2009 05:59:05 -0600

On Mar 11, 2009, at 9:53 AM, McLauchlan, Kevin wrote:
> Do you provide very detailed reviewer guidelines (like the test plans
> used by product verification and QA people)? Or is the review
> expected
> to be more subjective and however-the-reviewer-chooses-to-approach-it?

Far more the latter.

> I'm sure it's of value to readers to know how easy or hard a software
> package was to learn at a basic level, by somebody with no previous
> experience in that software or its nearest neighbors.
> But don't you need to provide commentary by somebody who is accustomed
> to using the various features (in previous versions or in very similar
> competitors), and who knows what s/he is trying to accomplish with
> each
> feature and command, and what should have come before, and what should
> be coming next? In other words, doesn't a thorough and widely
> valuable
> review kinda demand a power user?

No, it doesn't necessarily. As a matter of fact, I think that
it could be a detriment to be a power user of that product.
It all depends, but comes down far more to how people
approach the problem and evaluation than anything else.
Are there aspects that would be easier for a power user? Sure.
Is it impossible or unrealistic for a good writer and good
thinker to provide a good review of a relatively unfamiliar
product? Not at all.

> As an example, even though I've been using MadCap Flare for a couple
> of
> years, and have V4.2, I would not be a good choice to review version
> 5.
> I've been producing only stand-alone WebHelp, and my company still
> hasn't instituted a GUI to which my Help could be made
> context-sensitive. So that whole aspect (making it fit and work
> with/in
> the actual app that I document) is outside my experience. Moreover, I
> work in writerly isolation (surrounded by engineers, but the nearest
> other writer is a thousand miles away) and I am untrained with the
> tool
> (having just picked it up and run with it when we switched from
> RoboHelp... in which I was similarly untrained and learned-by-doing
> against a deadline). So, I don't make any use of most of the program.
> My review would be ... um... thin and lacking in meaty flavor.

If you were to do a review and not touch all of the significant
features, yes, it would be.

> The question then is, if you had anybody more experienced available,
> would you really be paying a free multi-hundred-dollar license to
> somebody who had limited (or no) previous exposure and was looking to
> learn it as a new-to-them tool?

I don't think that a power user is necessarily the best reviewer,
any more than I think that a developer is the best choice to
document the product. I think the analogy is obvious, here.
If you have to be a power user/developer to be competent writing
about the product in question, we as a profession have a problem.
If you can understand the technology quickly and well, speak
to the audience effectively, and address the salient points
cogently, you're set.

> Of course, if you or the vendor provides detailed guidance - these are
> points that you must cover, and here is how you can do much of that -
> then a person could learn a LOT in a short time AND give good review.

A GOOD reviewer can come up with that guidance on their own,
can they not? Google is always friendly.


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getting experience with expensive tools: From: Becky Edmondson
Re: getting experience with expensive tools: From: Bill Swallow
Re: getting experience with expensive tools: From: TECHWR-L Administrator
RE: getting experience with expensive tools: From: McLauchlan, Kevin

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