TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:Re: Discuss: Third party manuals? From:"Wilson, Al" <al -dot- wilson -at- CANADA -dot- CDEV -dot- COM> Date:Fri, 14 Apr 1995 13:44:00 EDT
Geoff Hart asked: <<If we do such a great job documenting software,
why are so many people making a good living writing third party "how
to" books? What are they doing right and what are we doing wrong?
One reason for the popularity of third-party manuals is a lack of original
manuals. When our company buys a software package for a large number of
employees, it "saves" money by actually purchasing only a few complete sets
of software and manuals and a license to install the software on a large
number of computers. The manuals often stay with the people who install the
software, not with the people who use the software. If a users wants
documentation for the software, a third-party manual is the only alternative.
(In some cases, several sets of third-party manuals are purchased by the
company and kept in strategic locations throughout the company, until they
are stolen.) Certainly in this case, the fact that third-party manuals are
being used does not implies that the writers of the original manuals are
doing anything wrong.
A second reason for the popularity of third-party manuals is that not all
users like the same style and presentation of information. For example,
the WordPerfect manuals tend to be far less task-oriented than some users
like, so they will look for a third-party manual that is more task-oriented.
Once again, this does not mean that the writers of the original manuals are
doing anything wrong. A set of manuals that could accommodated the
thousands, or even millions, of users of a piece of software would be too
expensive to produce. Once again, the fault is not with the writers of the
A third reason for the popularity of third-party manuals is that not all
users want to know ALL there is to know about the software they are using.
The result is a market for third-party manuals aimed at specific levels of
users. Unlike the writers of the original manuals, the writers of these third-
party manuals are able to concentrate on a subset of the features provided by
the software. The writer of a beginners manual would concentrate on features
that would not receive the same treatment by the writer of an advanced-user's
al -dot- wilson -at- gpo -dot- cdev -dot- canada -dot- com