Re: What's with the new docs? (long)

Subject: Re: What's with the new docs? (long)
From: Beryl Doane <BDoane -at- ENGPO -dot- MSMAILGW -dot- INTERMEC -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 1996 12:59:00 PST

Jane Bergen wrote:

>I'm so exasperated..... what is happening with the documentation,
>both online and paper, with some of the new Windows 95 programs? Or
>perhaps I should rephrase that: what is NOT happening....?

<snip>

This is a disturbing trend.

Last summer I attended a local STC meeting where the Microsoft
Windows 95 doc team explained how they reduced the docs by 90%
compared to the combined doc set for Win 3.1 and DOS 6.0 (about
900 pages). The presenters explained the corporate constraints
and how they worked to meet them.

The team did a good job of reducing the amount of info that ships with
the product. (As Tech Writers, we all sometimes have to meet "unrealistic"
goals.) From what I remember of the presentation, MS simply changed their
definition for the audience, then met the needs of that defined audience.
(So, praise to MS doc team for meeting their goals. Boo to the people
who defined the goals.)

Their audience was narrowed down from anyone with or without Windows
or computer experience, to users with Windows experience that would be
drawn in by Windows 95's "explorability." The product is an operating
system,
and "average users" would not need much technical information to
use it. The detailed technical information was removed from the User's Guide
and placed in a separate Technical Reference, available for about $30 extra,
and containing over 1000 pages. (Smoke and mirrors. The docs are still over

900 pages, but only 100 ship with the product.)

In my personal opinion (then and now), shifting the audience definition
does not change the audience. Corporate bean counters want the docs
to cost less. Program Management and Marketing want the docs to make
the product appear easy to use. The documentation team is told to reduce
pages. End users suffer, but there is not an easy method to report back to
the decision makers just how much.

A 100 page color sampler and online procedures simply cannot provide
all the details and the overview information needed to use complex products.
As a technical communicator and a user, I fear this extreme of minimalism.

I see these problem areas:

1. Defining minimalist. Take out everything, then test what you wrote. If
it does
not work, put info back in and test again. What happens when the corporate
policy only acknowledges the first part? You can take everything out, but
don't dare put anything back in. The users suffer, but they've already paid
for
the package. Who needs to worry about repeat sales when you already
control a majority of the PC platform?

2. Ship the absolute minimum, rely on third parties to pick up the
remaining
info, including your own "power users" guide, and charge for technical
support.
Personally, I find this unethical. If I bought a new car, and it did not
include
instructions for using their proprietary jack to change a flat tire with
their
proprietary spare, or even tell me where in the heck they hid the jack, I
would
be upset. Especially if I had to purchase the "technical reference" to learn

this basic procedure or if I had to pay to wait on hold to talk to product
support.

3. The precendence established by one or two major companies following this
model/attitude affects other companies. Microsoft does it, so we
can/must/will
do it also. People rush in to follow the trend without evaluating the
usefulness
of the trend.

So, what can we do? As technical communicators, focus on providing
complete documentation for our products and educate the decision makers
in our own companies. Your own company may veto your concerns, but if
you point out the advantages in fully documenting features, someone may
eventually listen to you.

As consumers and users, complain to the companies that attempt to *charge*
extra for info that was included for *free* in the last version. Marketers
will listen
to their customers. Right now, they are listening to neophytes complain
about complexity. Isn't it time the marketers heard from people who what to
use the features, but cannot figure out how?

Beryl Doane
bdoane -at- intermec -dot- com
---Opinions expressed are my own.----


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