Re: online vs. manuals -- enough already

Subject: Re: online vs. manuals -- enough already
From: Romay Jean Sitze <rositze -at- NMSU -dot- EDU>
Date: Wed, 28 Sep 1994 23:17:54 -0600

I like what Steve had to say here. I know I've tended to speak up on
behalf of the printed document in recent comments, but must admit that the
first software I ever learned --Prose Perfect on an ancient DEC Pro by
Digital-- was learned primarily by following the rather convoluted online
docmentation as I did not have access to a manual until after I had pretty
much learned what I had to know to make it produce a written text. It was
a slow, laborious process, and thankfully the online documentation I'm
seeing today is a far superior product.

It seems to me that most of what I've said or seen on this topic to date
misses one particularly important point. We don't all have the same
learning style. Our different personalities, backgrounds, and experiences
all play a part in determining how each of use learns. Because some
people will always learn better from one method and others through
another, as well as because of the limitations of the equipment we use,
both forms of documentation have their place.

Finally, from a personal point of view, I'm glad we have both. I, for
one, use both extensively.

On Wed, 28 Sep 1994, Steve Ino wrote:

> I've followed this discussion with interest. It seems to me, however, that
> you can't really generalize and say one method is more effective than the
> other. Documentation (online or written) is married to the product it
> describes. For some products, online-only might be the best way. For others,
> a written manual is the ONLY reasonable solution.

> For example, our company develops software for auto dealership personnel.
> Among others, our users include the guys who enter your repair order when
> you bring your car in for an oil change. There is absolutely no way these
> guys with their VT220 terminals (i.e. 12 inch screen, tiny green letters)
> are going to page through extensive online manual windows to find a solution
> while customers are waiting in line. They might, however, grab a paper
> manual and look for the solution on their break so they can help the next
> customer. We do provide online help, but it's short and context sensitive,
> and allows users to enter data while the window is still open. Full blown
> doc online with an index etc. would NOT work for these clients using this
> product.

> On the other hand, we also have a product for Parts managers who use 19 inch
> X-terms. This product lends itself to an online manual with on-screen help
> pages, and we provide minimal written documentation.

> Another reason it's impossible to speak in generalities on this topic is the
> fact that you can't divorce the vehicle from the content. There is really
> well written online documentation and useless afterthought material, just as
> there are good and bad paper manuals. Is a mediocre online manual better
> than good paper doc? Vice versa? In other words, it isn't the media but the
> message. (Remember your Tech. Writing 101 class?) When you see a poorly
> written and badly organized manual it's easy to believe online doc is a good
> alternative, but if the same writers are producing the online doc, wouldn't
> the poor documentation just be delivered in a different form?

> IMO, the answer isn't jumping on the latest trendy bandwagon and saying "The
> book is dead! Long live online!" but rather in producing QUALITY training
> material in whatever form. As many on the list have pointed out, there are
> inherent limitations to online help. It is simply one of the tools we have
> available to do our job. Let's use each tool appropriately when the
> application calls for it, instead of calling all our other tools obsolete.
> Both camps are correct: online documentation is superior for SOME
> applications, and written doc is superior for others. In many cases, you
> can't go wrong by providing both. As a wise man once said, "Why choose?"

> Steve

* RoMay Sitze rositze -at- nmsu -dot- edu *
* Mirrors should reflect a *
* little before throwing *
* back images. *
* -Jean Cocteau- *

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