Long vs. Short Manuals

Subject: Long vs. Short Manuals
From: "Peter Ring, PRC" <prc -at- PIP -dot- DKNET -dot- DK>
Date: Wed, 17 Jul 1996 10:19:59 +1

On 16 Jul 1996 Melinda M. Carr wrote:

> I work for a software company and am currently documenting the
> inexpensive ($99) product. It is sold primarily to lawyers and
> paralegals. The marketing angle is that the product is both
> powerful and easy to use.

> Our current manual (290 pages, not including the 70-page tutorial)
> attempts to document every task. All of this information is also
> included in the help system. The problem is that the manual no
> longer feels like it is easily accessible. We worry that people are
> getting bogged down in the details that they only need maybe 10% of
> the time and so aren't able to find the information they need every
> day.

> We have considered paring the manual down to the basics, with
> optional procedures mentioned (perhaps with *brief* instructions).
> The help system would still contain all the information, and we
> would list specific words to search on in the helps to make it
> easier for users to find what they wanted online. We also want to
> emphasize graphics more throughout the manual. (For those of you
> who have seen the Word 95 manual, we are thinking along those
> lines.)

I can easily see that including a 290 page manual severely cuts your
company's profit on a $99 product.

And I love short manuals! But only if you are truly able to find the
full information you sometimes need easily somewhere else.

That is _partially_ the case with Word 95, because the Windows 95
Help function includes search on all single words in the full text.
"Partially" because unfortunately it does not include full text
search with facilities like "automatic NEAR telephone", but maybe
that will be included in the next version?

If your product is for Windows 95 and equivalent platforms with
really good Help search facilities, only, you can probably stick to
a good 70 page tutorial with reference to the Help function.

If your product is for Windows 3.1/3.11, too, you will probably have
to include the full info as a book, at least for the Win 3.1x version
(which you can then maybe charge higher?). If only few users need
this info, you may consider selling this complete manual at a not too
greedy price.

Greetings from Denmark
Peter Ring
PRC - specialist in user friendly manuals and quality measurements on
prc -at- pip -dot- dknet -dot- dk
- homepage on user friendly instruction manuals with tips for
instruction manual writers.

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