Re: Online Documentation. New! Improved!

Subject: Re: Online Documentation. New! Improved!
From: Stephen Arrants <stephena -at- SONIC -dot- NET>
Date: Thu, 17 Oct 1996 15:50:48 -0700

On Thursday, October 17, 1996 3:13 PM, Robert
Plamondon[SMTP:robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM] wrote:
>It's not that I think that there's something inherently wrong
>with on-line documentation. I just don't understand why the
>on-line documentation that came with the apps I use is so bad.
>A lot of it is really dreadful -- much worse than the old paper
>docs by the same companies. My theory is that the dreadful stuff
>comes from people who are slavishly imitating Microsoft and
>each other, rather than learning about on-line documentation from
>the ground up. This is not an indictment of on-line documentation,
>but of the tendency towards imitation.

Having been on both sides of the fence (six years at Microsoft, and now
"out on parole"), I think you can attribute dreadful on-line documentation
to a few things:
not enough resources
insane schedules
no solid training in creating online documentation

At Microsoft, there would often be three, four, or more writers working on
one documentation project. In addition, there'd be full-time editors,
documentation assistants, designers, and tool developers--all of these
folks supporting both the print and online doc. effort. When I got out
into the "real world," there *might* be another writer.

Schedules are another problem. If folks have no background in creating
online documentation, there's nothing concrete upon which to base a
schedule. I can't tell you how many times I've talked to a hiring person
who assumed that you could write a full, online document for an application
in a couple of weeks. Or, as I've seen in some smaller companies, the doc
person/group has to take the schedule hit and not only revise and add
information, but do it in much less time.

Then there are those ads that ask for RoboHelp or Forehelp experience.
Now, it is great to know how to use a tool. I can use a saw and a hammer,
but I can't design a house very well. Just because someone can write good
print materials doesn't mean that he can do a great job delivering the
information online. Even for experienced print writers, I'd recommend a
good course on online documentation design. Doesn't matter if the course
doesn't talk too much about tools--the design and ideas behind the design
of online docs is invaluable.


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