Re. references vs. tutorials

Subject: Re. references vs. tutorials
From: Geoff Hart <geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Mon, 31 Jul 1995 09:05:09 LCL

Peggy Thomson asks <paraphrase> if the traditional distinction between
tutorials and reference manuals remains valid, or is just a
traditional relic.

Peggy, I make the following very specific distinction between a
tutorial and a reference:
1. Tutorial: task based. (Ex: how do I set up a master page in my DTP
2. Reference: command/menu based. (Ex: OK, now that I know how to set
up the master page, what are the details of each command.)

A tutorial should teach users the metaphor your software uses, and
create an overall schema of how the various components of the software
function; by the time you've gone through the tutorial, you know what
approach you take to problem solving, but probably don't know the
details. A reference section assumes you know how to solve a problem,
and now want to know the details. Unless you can create a reference
manual that provides a useful schema as described above, and I can't
think of how you could do that, you pretty much require a separate

Another vital point: Picture the reaction of a new user who opens the
box, having never used that type of software, and finds only a single
thick volume labeled reference, with no "tutorial" listed in the table
of contents. I know what my reaction would be! ("Hello, Microsoft?
What's your competitive upgrade offer on...") It's conceivable you
could do away with the tutorial, though I don't know how, but how do
you do away with that initial "how do I work with this software"

--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Disclaimer: If I didn't commit it in print in one of
our reports, it don't represent FERIC's opinion.

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