TECHWR-L Digest - 29 Apr 1994 to 2 May 1994

Subject: TECHWR-L Digest - 29 Apr 1994 to 2 May 1994
From: David Venzke <dven -at- COBRA -dot- CLEO -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 3 May 1994 09:05:37 EDT

On Mon, 2 May 1994 (10:55:12 EDT) Saul Carliner wrote:

> Lori Lathrop noted the importance of a good index in finding information
> and suggests that, if we had good indexes, perhaps people wouldn't need
> support.

> Although I agree with Lori that a good index is important, the sad fact is
> that even if we have the best indexes in the world, people would choose to
> call user support before they'd ever look in the manual, if the option was
> available. That's human nature and seems to be borne out in studies of
> computer users (although I have no specific cites).

Hhhhmmmmm. Consider the following, taken from a _PC_World_ user fax poll in
December 1991 and published in the April 1992 issue:

"... More than 90 percent of [respondents] depend on [documentation] to
get their computer products up and running; 87 percent rely on documentation
for troubleshooting when something goes awry; and 85 percent use it as a
command reference. Fifty-four percent of respondents use computer documentation
for tutorials, while a mere 3.6 percent consider it a last resort when they
can't get through to technical support."

"In fact, calling technical support is the last resort for most respondents--
provided they *can* call. One reader wondered if computer product manufacturers
even realize just how essential documentation is to some users: 'Vendors seem
unaware that in many corporate and government environments, the technical help
line is not available to the end user because registration numbers are not
available to him or her -- the disks are locked up somewhere or the
registration cards have been thrown away by somebody rather than mailed in.
Maybe tech help is a 900 number, or the help line doesn't accommodate rotary
phones. The plain truth is that many users are left to their own devices, and
a responsible and competent manufacturer/publisher should see to it that
documentation is complete, accurate, and thoroughly indexed.'

[snip ... snip]

"... A thorough index came out way ahead in this contest, earning an average
score of 1.59, followed by a command reference (3.19), a good table of contents
(3.53), screen images (4.02), and a walk-through tutorial (4.09). Bringing up
the rear were features less likely to affect how you use the documentation: a
spiral binding that allows pages to lie flat (4.5) and the use of color to
highlight important points (4.93)...."

While a survey such as this is far from scientific, I'd be surprised if these
findings were all that far from 'reality.' The full article is worth a read if
you write computer documentation.

Dave Venzke | All opinions expressed here are solely my
CLEO Communications | own. Any resemblance to opinions held by
3796 Plaza Drive | my employer is purely coincidental.
Ann Arbor MI 48108 |
(313) 662-2002, ext. 132 | Address: dven -at- cleo -dot- com

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