Re: What's with the new docs?

Subject: Re: What's with the new docs?
From: Jane Bergen <janeb -at- ANSWERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 1996 09:06:37 +0000

> Probably we are getting phased out ... we're barely part of the
> projects now! And as companies keep searching for ways to cut costs
> ... why should they keep a tech writer around while they're
> replacing programmers with cheaper foreign labor? Of course,
> *someone* has to write the online help text, and translate the
> programmers' docs into comprehensible language ...

> We are encouraged by the way Steven Wolfram did Mathematica ... he
> wrote and published the entire user manual, then made the
> development team make the software work the way the manual said it
> did ... Maybe we should be prepared to get more involved in the
> software design end.

I could only WISH..... I think we're all in agreement that we do need
to be part of the design team and to have some input for user
interface design.

> BTW, why not *write* a book for Picture Publisher or Designer? We
> don't know about PicPub, but Designer has a healthy number of users
> who might be eagerly waiting for a book on their favorite
> illustration program!

I would LOVE to do this... if I were independently wealthy and had a
year off from my regular job to do it!

> But what's really discouraging is finding out how few users *use*
> the docs. Their first reaction is to ask someone near them, e.g., a
> coworker, how to do what they want to do. Their second reaction is
> to call the Help Desk (or some other coworker) and ask them how to
> do it. They almost *never* bother checking the manual!

This may be partly the result of bad experiences with documentation
in the past. For example, remember how frustrating online help was in
DOS programs? It took up the entire screen and you were either IN or
OUT of help. No graphics, no hypertext, etc.

I also think - and this probably sounds like heresy here -- that we
put far too much emphasis on online help across the board. My
experience teaching/watching new PC learners is that online help is
just more than they want to deal with. I have never found a single
new user who uses online help efficiently or who even LIKES using it.
It's just irritating to have to deal with plowing through hypertext
links, windows fading in and out, and the poor resolution of some
monitors for starters. I like developing online help, I use online
help, I like online help, but I LOVE a paper manual in my hand, on my
desk, marked up with notes on the pages and in the index. I like
being able to look through a manual without having the program open.

But, yes, I'm very worried about where we're going as a profession if
the current minimalist trend continues.
Jane Bergen, Technical Writer
janeb -at- answersoft -dot- com or janeb -at- airmail -dot- net
"The difference between the right word and the
almost right word is the difference between lightning
and the lightning bug" (Mark Twain)

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