Re: Online docs -- was RE: PDF vs HTML

Subject: Re: Online docs -- was RE: PDF vs HTML
From: Bruce Covell <brucec -at- CCTECH -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 16 Oct 1996 05:42:56 +0000

My experience has been that customers will always develop alternate
sources for the information they require, whether it's third-party
books, a more knowledgeable colleague, technical support, a sales
rep. or applications engineer, class notes, and so on. And this
happens whether or not we supply printed docs. They seem to do this
for a variety of reasons:

1. They don't have the docs, online or printed.
2. They can't find the information in the docs.
3. Previous bad experiences taught them to avoid the docs.

They'll just do whatever gets them the best answer the quickest.
Whatever works best often becomes the first resource for
information. That means the docs, printed or online, can become
irrelevant for these customers. At that point we've lost them, and
it can be very difficult to bring them back into the fold, as it

I think that sometimes we put too much emphasis on how we deliver
the docs, rather than on how customers need or want to find
information. If we look at all the ways our company provides
information to customers, we'll probably find that the company is
spinning a rather large web of information sources and delivery
methods, and that customers take full advantage. We'll find that we,
as technical communicators, are often competing with sales,
marketing, and engineering to provide information to customers. Of
course, we believe that we do it best because it's what we're
trained to do, but that's not what impresses customers. They have a
need for information and they'll get it one way or another.

I'd like to think that our docs always provide the information that a
customer needs, but I know that's not true, and never will be, no
matter how hard we work to achieve that goal. Maybe it's better to
view our docs, printed or online, as a part of an overall
information delivery system, and make sure that they play a useful
role in that system.

Look at your own company and examine all the formal and informal ways
it provides information to customers. Maybe that will provide a new
perspective on the role of your docs in that system and help to generate
some new ideas. Maybe the docs don't have to be the best or only
answer, and maybe accounting for all this will lead to better overall
support for customers, not to mention possibly making the
online/printed question easier to answer

Bruce Covell.

> Actually, I'm sure that the number of people who order,
> for example, MS Word docs from Microsoft is in fact pretty
> small. After seeing the farce that comes with Word 95/7,
> few people would ask for more of the same.

> However, a quick walk through
> the nearest bookstore will show how many people find the online docs
> provided with Word inadequate. There are literally dozens of books
> in larger bookstores about Word, with comparable numbers about
> everything else under the sun. If people were that happy with online
> docs, these books wouldn't be selling.

> Eric
> (not necessarily in favor of killing trees, but a realist)

> ******************************************************
> Eric J. Ray ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com
> TECHWR-L Listowner

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A conclusion is simply the place where you got tired of thinking.

Bruce Covell Cooper and Chyan Technology Inc.
brucec -at- cctech -dot- com 1601 S. De Anza Boulevard
408.342.5630 Cupertino, CA 95014

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