Re: Welcome, and Net-Docs

Subject: Re: Welcome, and Net-Docs
From: Len Olszewski <saslpo -at- UNX -dot- SAS -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1993 09:56:04 -0500

> My question is, how do we help users avoid "screwing it up." Obviously,
> mistakes happen, as I just demonstrated a few minutes ago. Those cannot
> be helped. Systematic problems are a different matter. We get lots of calls to
> the help desk about, for example, how to adjust the margins in Word for
> Windows. Those could easily be solved by looking at the documentation, but
> people don't.

> We have recently started looking at ways to develop "independent users"
> who will try to help themselves rather than making phone calls first and
> reading the documentation, if necessary, later. Short of redesigning
> the software or the interface, which in many cases isn't an option, what can
> done to encourage people to use the stuff? Have any of you embarked on such a
> venture?

> Eric
> ejray -at- okway -dot- okstate -dot- edu

This is a more common dilemma than a lot of us think. In the business of
technical communication, the job at hand is usually to communicate
technical concepts, instructions, procedures or descriptions. We
typically do this regardless of whether the process or product about
which we write is designed well, or indeed at all. So you do a good job
documenting a flawed process, and people then misuse a product. Great
documentation, flawed design, people still don't get it. Here,
redesigning the software is the *only* option to improve user

Then there are well-conceived processes, designed to work well with
clear, well-written documentation. The user has no access to the
documentation, so guess what? Good process, good documentation, no
access to the doc, people still mess it up. Even worse, users have the
doc, but don't read it. What are you gonna do about it? Write better doc
so the user can then ignore a higher quality book?

Somebody suggested that this discussion points to an immediate
opportunity to create some form of documentation to cover networks,
listservs, and so on. Good idea. There are a number of documents
available now about just these kinds of things. Go ahead a produce
another one. It certainly couldn't hurt.

Here's the attitude I have about people misusing software, or making
mistakes they might avoid by reading the doc; I can't control what other
people do, how they learn, what books they have or what mistakes they
will make. I can only control my own actions and products. Thus, I try
very hard to design and produce documents to make it as easy as possible
for people who use my company's software. If they don't read it, it's
not because I didn't try my best. I can, after all, only do so much.

In the case of list services and usenet/internet/all the other nets, you
have an agglommeration (sp?) of different things installed at different
levels of development on different platforms serving different users in
different places all over the world. Now, you tell me, why can't people
get it right? To paraphrase, it's not surprising that they don't get it
right, it's surprising that they get it at all.

Unfortunately for the users, and luckily for the tech writer job market,
there aren't enough of us around who are good at it to cover everybody.
And there will always be people who don't read what we write. But, that
doesn't mean we should stop writing.

|Len Olszewski, Technical Writer |"You can observe a lot by watching."|
|saslpo -at- unx -dot- sas -dot- com|Cary, NC, USA| - Yogi Berra |
| Opinions this ludicrous are mine. Reasonable opinions will cost you.|

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