user/reader response to documentation

Subject: user/reader response to documentation
From: Thom Remington <remingtf -at- FREENET -dot- SCRI -dot- FSU -dot- EDU>
Date: Thu, 21 Jul 1994 09:23:24 -0400

Do users read what we write?

With software, most users employe the "if all else fails, read the
manual" approach.

The stuff I write - most of it - is aimed at helping engineers and plant
operators to keep nasty stuff from getting loose into the environment.
Yes, they read it. We know because we encourage feedback. Every document
contains a statement encouraging users to contact the chief SME (subject
matter expert) if they know of a better way to do things. And we get a
fair number of responses.

When I see documentation that's inadequate - and that probably describes
the majority of the software documentation I see - I'm inclined to write
to the publisher with complaints and suggestions. As an example of one
that I'm preparing now, an on-line help screen told me to execute a
command, but it listed the wrong subdirectory. When I tried to execute
the command, it seemed to work. No error message, but I still hadn't
achieved what I wanted. By looking through the directory on the disk (a
CD-ROM), I managed to find the error.

So, the publisher will hear from me. I figure that I can (maybe) help
future users. It's like writing to a store's management if you get
treated badly. Help them learn.

Thom Remington
Wilmington, Delaware

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