Why We Need Good Software Manuals

Subject: Why We Need Good Software Manuals
From: Michael Andrew Uhl <uhl -at- VISLAB -dot- EPA -dot- GOV>
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 1996 07:47:12 -0800

My esteemed colleagues,

Why Manuals Are Good

An essential part of learning to be a good writer is the habit of
reading. Consequently, good technical writers read habitually. Among
the things they read are software manuals, usually for the tools
they use to do their jobs. As Shauna Jeanne pointed out, most
software users avoid reading manuals. On the other hand, the
successful technical writers I know read these manuals quite
carefully. [I'm not trying to imply that they or I actually
*enjoy* reading them... ;-) That would make us nerds... ;-)]

Voila, we become experts. We can define software "experts" as those
who have actually read significant parts of the user manual and
understand how to perform all the basic operations and then some.
Many people have asked me, including technical writers--ugh!, "How
do you know so much about ***?" I'll be the first to admit, I am
less than a genius. I also tell them that I sure didn't go to a
training class--way too expensive. And then I let them try to figure
out how I did it.

Why Abandoning Packaged Documentation Is Bad

The bummer about the movement away from manuals packaged with the
software, is that employers--who paid for the software--bought
your manuals automatically. Now, however, getting the employer
to pay for manuals is like trying to get water from a rock. I now
have to buy the book first, demonstrate its value, and then beg to
be reimbursed. And these books cost big bucks: a cheap, and useful,
Windows 95 books starts at $29.95.


Have you noticed that even though the manuals have begun to vanish,
the cost of upgrades continues to rise ever more steeply? How come
an *upgrade* to PageMaker or Word costs $125 or more? Remember when
the original program cost that much?

...just bitching...it's Monday morning...



Michael Andrew Uhl, Lead Technical Writer (uhl -at- vislab -dot- epa -dot- gov)
Lockheed Martin, Primary Support Contractor to US EPA
National Environmental Supercomputing Center (NESC)

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