Re (2): One doc for both training and reference

Subject: Re (2): One doc for both training and reference
From: Stewart Walker <stewart -dot- walker -at- CPE -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Tue, 16 Jan 1996 09:19:44 +1100

Hi all

After an extensive period of lurking, I'd like to throw in my AUD$0.02 on
this subject.

Previous instalments...

Julie Tollefson:
Our technical writing department has been asked to investigate the
possibility of producing one document that meets training and reference

Eric J. Ray:
I'd love to get some input on this one. We're doing just that
(out of time constraints rather than anything else, at least
at this point), but I'm not convinced it will work.

John P. Brinegar:
While it may be possible to get by with a single document, it seems to me
that this doc might suffer from poor usability. I have seen some online
stuff that was designed to serve both reference and training purposes and
did combine the purposes very well. In this online stuff, the instructional
and practice stuff was clearly separate from the reference stuff, and it
was easy to jump back and forth without getting confused. (Hey! That's an
electronic performance support system, isn;'t it?)

In paper, I belive most users would find a mix of documents, some
supporting instruction and practice and some providing ref info, more
useful. The development cost and time cycle could still be reduced by
simultaneous development of training and reference stuff.

>We've got a new product (internal for now, external in about
>6 months) and created a "User's Guide" that's structured
>as a tutorial and functions as a training guide/supplement.
>You have to work through it sequentially to get the full
>impact, but it can, in a pinch, act as a user's guide. It's
>got a glossary and full index, so it will work to an extent
>as a reference.
>I'm just joining this project, and I'm trying to figure out
>how to keep the document together, add material, and not
>reduce the usability on any count.

If this is to be devlivered on paper, I believe you may not succeed very well.

My contribution:
Instead of having one document for both training and reference, perhaps
Reference Based Training (RBT) may be the answer you're looking for. In
RBT, you use your reference material as a resource during training. Your
training material becomes a short guide that provides the big picture and
training scenarios, with xrefs to the reference material for more detail
when required.

When you have a tutorial exercise, instead of leading the users through the
steps, you would give them the scenario and other background info., and tell
them to see page x of the reference material for the procedure details. If
your info. is online, the references can be hypertext links.

RBT has the advantage of also getting users to use the reference material
and discovering where information is located. Along the way, they may even
realise that the manual is really helpful and easy to use, which will
encourage them to use it more on the job. Using an RBT approach also allows
you to do more in less time with fewer resources. This is because you only
write each procedure, conceptual overview, etc. *once*.

At my previous company (a documentation consulting company), we used RBT
very successfully in a number of scenarios. It worked equally well for user
documentation, corporate policies and procedure, and ISO 9000 quality
documentation. We also used it in computer based training that referred
users to paper manuals. Our clients' experience was that it was an
effective way of training people, and that it resulted in reference manuals
being used for their intended purposes rather than being doorstops.

If you want to find out more about RBT, there was an article on it in an
Intercom magazine sometime in 94 or 95. I believe that Information Mapping
Inc. in Waltham MA may also have some information available on RBT.

Hope this helps.

"I love being a writer . . . what I can't stand is the paperwork"
-Peter De Vries

Stewart Walker
Technical Writer
Computer Power Education, ITS R&D Project
L4, 493 St Kilda Rd Melbourne 3004
Ph: In Australia - 03 9243 2317 International - 613 9243 2317
Fax: In Australia - 03 9820 2010 International - 613 9820 2010
E-mail: stewart -dot- walker -at- cpe -dot- com -dot- au
Check out our ever-improving web site at

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