Re: Documentation Usability/Multiple-User Design

Subject: Re: Documentation Usability/Multiple-User Design
From: Kris Olberg <KJOlberg -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 8 Nov 1995 21:12:32 -0500

In a message dated 95-11-08 20:22:09 EST, MONFORTO -at- EMUVAX -dot- EMICH -dot- EDU (Margie
Monforton) writes:

>I am trying to determine
>whether anyone has studied the methods of documentation design
>that can help writers create a layering effect so that both
>novices and experienced users (of the product or procedure) can
>access information efficiently.

A couple of years ago I saw a presentation at STC's annual conference on page
layout. Shortly after I was asked to design a template for a new library of
manuals for a large bank in the midwest U.S. What I did was to create a "fast
lane" and a "slow lane" for procedures by using indents. The basic procedure
info (for experienced users) went into the fast lane, and the more detailed
info (for novices) went into the slow lane. A procedure look like this:

To Add or Change a Footnote in a Document

1. Select File, Open to open the document.

2. To add the footnote, place the cursor where you want
the footnote and select Insert, Footnote.

A window opens asking if you want
to designate the foonote using a number
or some other mark. After you select
the mark you want, the footnote window
opens in which you type the footnote.
When you have finished, select Close.

3. To change a footnote, locate the text that you footnoted.
Select View, Footnotes.

The footnote window
opens. Change the appropriate footnote.
When you have finished, select Close.

E-mail may not be the best way to illustrate this, but I think you get the
idea. Experienced users can quickly scan down the left side, looking for the
high points. Novice users, if they want, can read the detailed stuff.

Comments from the the document users were positive. We never did any
usability testing though.

>Also, is "usability" a term that refers to documentation, or is this
>term primarily used in relation to software? If people use it
>in relation to documentation, does anyone know of articles that
>I could find discussing document usability.

The term "usability" is used commonly in many industries, even in product
manufacturing. It refers to the relative measure of how easy it is for a
consumer to interact with a product, whether it be a book, a computer, a car,
a washing machine, and so on. I can't recommend any specific books, but I'd
suggest you join your local chapter of STC. The STC journals and newsletters
are always chock full of document usability information.

kjolberg -at- aol -dot- com
kjolberg -at- ix -dot- netcom -dot- com
102031 -dot- 3556 -at- compuserve -dot- com

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