Re: What's with the new docs?

Subject: Re: What's with the new docs?
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 1996 15:49:38 -0800

I've been reading the comments on Win 95 docs, and doc styles in general,
with interest. It's now time to add my $.02 --

[soapbox on]
Just for the record, guys -- I've read a lot of stuff by John Carroll on
designing minimalist documentation. He *never* said only document 1/3 of
the system. Minimalism cuts down on *excess* verbiage, it gets the user
started performing tasks immediately (as opposed to after 35 pages of
introductory text), it advises that you give instructions for only a
single way of performing a task (but it does not advise that you give
the user information on only some of the tasks available for use),
it advises that you encourage exploration (not that you hide half
the system from the user).

Preparing minimal documentation does not mean leave off 60% of the
necessary information!!!! Yes, the Win 95 help is written minimally
(what there is of it). The fact that MS expects you to purchase the
bulk of the doc set at an extra charge is no fault of John Carroll's!

>But, yes, I'm very worried about where we're going as a profession if
>the current minimalist trend continues.

Minimalism has been around since the mid-80's and it has not destroyed
the profession yet. A lack of understanding of the techniques involved
may cause the profession to destroy minimalism, though.

The software industry, like any other industry, has been forced to become
more competitive in order to survive. We, as professionals within the
industry, need to keep an eye on profitability. We also need to keep an
eye on usability. Can we do both?? Sure we can.

It is possible to reduce the amount of printed documentation and still
provide the users with all the information they need to operate the
software. Using minimalist instructions is one approach -- and a good
one. Careful planning is another. Using online and printed media to
their (individual and not necessarily overlapping) best advantage is
another. And getting involved in the design of the user interface so
that it best communicates its intent to the user is yet another.

Technical writers who are narrow-mindedly stuck on the huge paper
manual will surely have problems coping with industry trends. Technical
communicators who participate in software design to make the user interface
more intuitive, who help create meaningful and instructive error messages,
who design online help to provide information on demand and the progressive
disclosure of information, who design paper manuals to deliver conceptual
information that can be easily read and understood by the target audience,
and who use other techniques like multi-media tutorials and demos when
appropriate, will have no problems earning a living in the more competitive
software industry of the future.

Bottom line -- we're in an industry that is constantly growing and
changing. If we don't grow and change with it, we're in trouble. We need
to *understand* all of the techniques that have been developed for the
presentation of information and make use of the ones that fit our
present needs. We must also keep informed of new techniques and industry
trends. We can't afford to stop growing -- the industry won't wait for
us to catch up.
[soapbox off]

-Sue Gallagher
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com

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