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

Subject: Re: What's with the new docs? (long)
From: Loryn Jenkins <loryn -at- OZEMAIL -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Wed, 24 Jan 1996 06:40:40 +1000

I think your analogy of the jack is flawed:
Microsoft docs *do* tell you how to use the jack to change the
spare tire. They don't tell you where the jack is, because they
provide a shortcut to it (a slight failing, IMHO).

But what they don't tell you is what load the jack can take,
what the jack is made of, and what it's life expectancy is.

You see, they include the 'use', but leave out the 'details'.


Beryl Doane wrote:

> 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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