audience for documentation

Subject: audience for documentation
From: Vicki Rosenzweig <murphy!acmcr!vr -at- UUNET -dot- UU -dot- NET>
Date: Thu, 17 Mar 1994 16:19:39 EST

My hunch is that at least some of the documentation is addressed
to a mythical user: the person who has no computer experience, and
is afraid of the computer, but can easily be reassured if you
explain that it's not going to bite, and that nothing the user
does will damage the equipment. (The manual for DeScribe, which
is sitting on my desk, is an example of this.) Such people may
exist, but (a) most of them aren't going to be using the
software, and (b) even if they're forced to use a computer in
order to keep their jobs, they're likely to be surrounded by
users who, even if novices with the particular software, aren't
completely new to computers: they haven't used Lotus, say, but
they use a word processor, or vice versa.

This may connect to our earlier discussion about the proper
connection between technical writing and marketing: computer
people talk about "users" rather than "customers" in part
because they know that, most of the time, the person using
the equipment isn't the one who decided to buy it. Done right,
this means the documentation explains to the person who has
just found a PC on their desk instead of a typewriter why
this is a good idea, and how best to do their job using it.
Done wrong, it means that the energy is put into convincing
executives that the company will benefit if everyone _else_
has a PC on their desk. "Don't be afraid, it's not going to
bite" may be a failed attempt to do it right.

Vicki Rosenzweig
vr%acmcr -dot- uucp -at- murphy -dot- com
New York, NY

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