Re: documentation woes

Subject: Re: documentation woes
From: "Katie Albers" <KATALBE -at- NERVM -dot- NERDC -dot- UFL -dot- EDU>
Date: Tue, 9 Mar 1993 17:32:21 EST

Hi all,

I'm currently a mass comm grad student at University of Florida, with 10
years writing user manuals behind me (usually custom for software/systems that
were alleged already to have "excellent" user manuals), and I expect to go back
to some aspect of that when I finish this phase of my education.

I don't know what your in-house set-up is, Eric, but I've sometimes found the
best "quick and dirty" method for updating documentation while holding down the
user support desk is to put every question into a wp file as it comes in, along
with the step-by-step answer. Sometimes I also annotated them with keywords
that didn't appear in the text but that I though others might use to ask the
same or a similar question.

So then, the way this winds up working is that Joe Random User walks into
your office (calls you/e-mails/whatever) and asks a question. You open up the
proper file (you can set up separate files for different types of questions or
not --it isn't crucial either way), do a quick search to see if you've answered
the question before, and if you haven't you enter the question, and the answer
approximately contemporaneously with telling JRU what the answer is. This has
the additional advantage that it allows you to user-test your docs as you go
along because you can integrate any follow-up questions into the answer as you
go. Print out a copy of the resulting documentation for JRU (thus justifying
the additional time this takes). Annotate the section with the additional
keywords. Then when the time comes to update the docs on a particular topic
you have a lot of the prose in place and ready to be correlated and edited.

It isn't painless, but at least it gives you the feeling that the time you
spend on the user support desk isn't disappearing into the void.

Good luck,


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