Re: Documentation not as importa

Subject: Re: Documentation not as importa
From: "Barbara J. Philbrick" <burkbrick -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 29 Apr 1994 18:21:08 EDT

> Looking back further into industry history, Walsh observed that,
> ten years ago, documentation was the most important feature to
> software buyers. Today, though, corporate concern over
> documentation is far outweighed by interest in support, with 72
> percent of respondents rating support, service and training as
> "very important," and only 47 percent doing so for
> documentation.

The key here might be "corporate concern." Are they responding to survey
results, gut feeling, or squeaky wheels? What did the survey participants
have to say?

I think users do prefer to be shown or told what to do, but I find it
difficult to believe they're willing to pay long-distance phone rates while
they're on hold to find out how to cut and paste. (I just spent two hours on
the phone with MicroSoft with a Word 6.0 problem, and believe you me, I could
think of more fun things to do, including looking in a manual.)

I'm surprised ease-of-use dropped down in importance. This seems like the
best of all worlds.

> So what do we do, as technical communicators, to get customers
> to make these connections? A manager or exec reading this
> study might conclude their money is better spent on a couple of
> people answering service calls rather than on writers, designers,
> online help-building software, and printing costs.

We're still cheaper than several support people. Imagine if we quit sending
documentation altogether (and didn't include on-line help). The best that we
can do is make documentation easy to use, easy to find things in, and easy to
read. I'm not sure how to do it, but we should start publicly condemning
poorly written manuals in an attempt to shame the companies that produced
them into doing a better job. I think many people won't look at a manual
because their experience tells them to expect so little from documentation.



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