worth of documentation

Subject: worth of documentation
From: Anatole Wilson <awilson -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 17 Mar 1994 13:22:30 PST

I never reallyt thought about it before, but it really *is* strange that
books like _DOS for Dummies_ that take a humorous/less serious approach to
documentation do so well. Almost every customer/user study I've ever seen
has shown that customers in general *don't* like to see that approach in the
"official" company manuals. I'd love to see someone do some research on this.

My own theories (not backed by any research whatsoever):

- Perceived respect: The people who buy _(Program) For Dummies_ are
actively choosing the voice of their "paper instructor." If the
software manufacturer's manuals were written in the same voice,
the users may feel that they're intentionally being written down
to, as if the program was especially written for stupid people.
(Possibly the reason why the term "user-friendly" is used more often
than "idiot-proofed.") People want respect before they'll take
friendly advice.

- Too many computer-literate grouches take part in customer surveys:
If you've ever put a customer response card with your manual, you
know that 95% of the responses are going to be complaints. Also,
new users are often floored by thick books, while seasoned computer
veterans know what parts of the program and documentation they're
going to use, and can more easily identify the areas they'd like to
see improved. thus, customer surveys are skewed in favor of
experienced complainers who do not want to be taken lightly.

- Company manuals don't include "secret tips." The authors of external
books take the time to use the program extensively and to talk to
other users to find the shortcuts that company documenters simply
don't have the time to research or try out. I noticed that the
latest version of QUICKEN comes with a booklet of "secret tips."
Naturally, I read this much smaller book before I even considered
tackling the manuals.

Well, those are a couple of ideas, anyway. All comments welcome, because this
is really bugging me now that I've thought about it...

Anatole Wilson "Mountains' walking is just like
Sr. Assoc. Information Developer human walking. Accordingly, do not
IBM, Santa Teresa Labs doubt mountains' walking even
awilson -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com though it does not look the same
as human walking."
all company disclaimers apply --Zen Master Dogen

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