Re: Sanity check (to Eric)

Subject: Re: Sanity check (to Eric)
From: Tom Neuburger <Tom_Neuburger -at- LTX-TR -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 27 Aug 1996 10:57:52 -0600

Reply to: RE>Sanity check (to Eric)

Eric (and group),

You wrote:

> Most of the published literature I've seen does
> not address the comforting, encouraging, convincing
> issues at all. ... (If anyone's
> seen anything along these lines, I'd greatly
> appreciate a reference).

> However, I wonder if this isn't a significant
> issue for technical communicators -- not only
> should the docs be good and easy to use, but they
> should ALSO address the less-tangible needs of
> the readers.

Some of the literature on usability addresses
this -- what makes the user feel comfortable.
Tone is on the list, but not high. Other issues
include stuff like whether the computer is
anthropomorphized or not.

It turns out (as I recall) that people feel more
comfortable if the machine is treated like
a machine, one whose response is predictable.
("Do this--it does this. If it doesn't, it's broke.")

They are less comfortable when the machine is
personalized. This is opposite to many of our
assumptions about documentation. An approach
like "If the nice computer doesn't respond right
away, maybe it wants you to press the Esc key"
actually frightens folks who do -not- want the
computer to be in charge. (Machines should not
act like our relatives.)

I don't have the reference for this literature
now -- but the man who led the usability group
has done some good work. If I find the book (I just
moved), I'll send the name along.

(By the way, the documentation they produced
was clearly untouched by the publisher -- they
took 300 dpi source from the writers and printed
it. And both the writing and layout are atrocious.
The ideas that flowed from their hundreds of
controlled studies are excellent, but they have
no -feel- for their subject, as their own work
showed. I wouldn't underestimate the importance
of having a feel for good documentation.)

Regards,

Tom

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