What *is* user-friendly...

Subject: What *is* user-friendly...
From: WandaJane Phillips <wandajp -at- ANDYNE -dot- ON -dot- CA>
Date: Fri, 19 Jan 1996 19:07:45 -0500

I had a discussion recently with a friend, who is also technically a
writer, and we disagreed on what made a guide *user friendly*. We
narrowed the conversation to software products for office use, not games
or home entertainment types of software, not hardware or not computer
related products.
I held the opinion that the friendliest guides informed in as clear and
concise a manner as possible. That they worked on the premise that what
the user wanted to accomplish was more important that long-winded
explanations of every feature and the three to five steps required to
use it. I continued with easy access to information, meaning well
structured documents with a good index and a glossary, and I finished up
with breaking books up so that a novice user had one book, intermediate
another book (perhaps even another kind of book), and the experienced
user got an in-depth reference.
My buddy complained that I was too staid, too stuck in a rut that didn't
allow people to feel really comfortable with the products I document. A
friendly, more colloquial presentation would get people more relaxed and
that would enable them to explore more confidently. Buddy says books
like the series with big disks that look like people and point to things
are the perfect novice user book. Apparently, there is no need for books
beyond that except for lots of detailed context-sensitive help.
My complaint, which buddy has heard way too much of, is that
1) I don't want my guides to be chummy, I want my (for example) Word
guide to tell me, in no uncertain terms, how to create headers and
footers for odd and even pages.
2) Marketing style belongs in marketing documents. Although the person
using the product may not be the one who bought it, and therefore may
need to be *sold* on the product, my feeling is the best way to get the
user's *buy-in* is to make the product as easy to understand as
possible, and I can do that with neutral language quite efficiently.
Buddy wants me to use looser language and grammar, I want tidy little
docs. I save my creative writing for my letters home and other stories.

Opinions?

WandaJane
--
WandaJane Phillips
Senior Technical Writer -- Pablo
Andyne Computing
Usual disclaimers in effect


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