Re: minimal manuals

Subject: Re: minimal manuals
From: Ken d'Albenas <kendal -at- AUTOTROL -dot- CUC -dot- AB -dot- CA>
Date: Tue, 18 May 1993 18:38:56 MDT

Jonathan Lavigne <jpl -at- lyra -dot- stanford -dot- edu> writes:

> We've experimented with minimalist guides and found that beginners
> much prefer them to lengthier manuals. I don't know if you can get
> away from reference manuals altogether, but they can certainly put
> off users who are new to a system.

Well, you can't please everyone with one type of manual. Obviously,
a beginner may respond better to a simple manual than a reference
encyclopedia because of the lower signal-to-noise ratio.

The key word above is BEGINNERS. Notwithstanding that "real programmers
don't need manuals," lots of people don't respond all that well to
the "teach 'em to swim by throwing 'em in the deep end" approach.
Too much stress. They need a "getting started" manual; however, if
the primer succeeds in its task, the new user is definitely going to
hunger for more.

For a _practical_ comparison of two excellent documentation sets,
one comprehensive and one somewhat minimalist, look at the manuals
for Interleaf and FrameMaker. Both are excellent, "Cadillac class"
software products. Interleaf's docs are the comprehensive ones, and
they weigh in somewhere in the same range as a Ford 1/2-ton. Frame's
are more portable, but as a result they leave out a lot that a
semi-experienced user needs to know.

For a practical example of the rage you can trigger with excellent
but somewhat minimal documentation, ask Jennifer Yates (jeny -at- answer -dot- com)
about the paper she did on FrameMaker at San Jose State last year.
She asked the FrameMaker users' e-mail group for their opinions and
experiences on several topics, including Frame's documentation.
In a word, Frame's documentation didn't get flamed, it got nuked!


Ken d'Albenas
Alberta Chapter (Region 7) || Opinions are not necessarily those of ||
(-:: || the corporate Powers-That-Be; in fact, ||
kendal -at- autotrol -dot- cuc -dot- ab -dot- ca || they rarely are. ||


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