Re: Discuss: Third party manuals?

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
original manuals.

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
manual.


Al Wilson
al -dot- wilson -at- gpo -dot- cdev -dot- canada -dot- com


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