Re: Why manuals?

Subject: Re: Why manuals?
From: mpriestley -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM
Date: Wed, 21 Sep 1994 15:56:36 EDT

Gwen Gall writes:
>If no one is reading hard copy before/during/after software use, why is there
>such a HUGE market for non-vendor user guides? Maybe nobody is reading the
>documentation that comes with the product. I know plenty of people who opt
>for reading these user-centered, task-oriented books instead of reference-
>style, product/function oriented product documentation.

1) the distinction between task-oriented and function-oriented has nothing,
inherently, to do with online vs. hardcopy. There are very good user-centered,
task-oriented online docs. There are also very good reference-style printed

2) even when user-centered, task-oriented books ship with a product,
third-party guides for it still sell. The third-party author has the luxury
of playing with a finished product, and only dwelling on the interesting
parts because the product documentation can fill in any gaps. The third-party
author also has the simple advantage of being a third-party. How would you
feel about a book called "DOS for Dummies" by Bill Gates? From a
sympathetic, uninvolved party, this title sounds like humorous commiseration.
Coming from someone you just shelled out cash to for a product you're having
difficulties with, it sounds insulting and patronizing.

Summation: online information can be task-oriented and user-centered. The
main reasons hardcopy has advantages here is a) screen real estate (a book
in your lap doesn't clutter up the screen) and b) portability (you can
read it in the bathtub). Third-party books sell because they have a better
position to write from (with a working product and existing docs to build on)
and a more sympathetic audience to write to (since they can say bad things
about a product without the user immediately feeling resentful that they
chose to document it instead of fix it).

Hope this makes sense, and apologies for all the parentheses.

Michael Priestley
mpriestley -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
Disclaimer: speaking on my own behalf, not IBM's.

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