We All Get Third Party Books

Subject: We All Get Third Party Books
From: "George F. Hayhoe" <gfhayhoe -at- SCESCAPE -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 6 Nov 1996 08:57:47 -0500

Regarding third party documentation, Eric Haddock said, "I know I'd feel
all down in the dumps if someone put one out to counter one of my manuals."

This is not intended as a put-down to Eric, but most of us are kidding
ourselves if we think that our users aren't "publishing" their own "books"
for the products we document.

Visit the workplaces of some typical users of your product. Chance are that
a hefty number of them have developed their own collections of notes,
"cheat sheets," or informal procedures to use in place of the manuals you
have so lovingly labored over.

The effective communicator finds out why and how the current documentation
set is failing to meet users' needs--as well as what it's doing right!--and
tailors the next release to make it fit the users better.

My most humbling yet valuable experience as a technical communicator came
the first time I saw what users were actually using instead of the manual
that I was so proud of. After spending lots of time wondering what was
wrong with them (the manual in question was one I'd produced using advice
gleaned from books, articles, and conference presentations by the best and
brightest in our business), it finally occurred to me that there might be
something wrong with the manual. Release 2 was much more like what the
users had devised than what I had originally provided, and subsequent
informal surveys showed that users found it much more helpful.

This isn't rocket science, but it is one of those simple practices that can
make a profound difference in how users perceive the value of our work.

--George Hayhoe (gfhayhoe -at- scescape -dot- net)

George Hayhoe Associates
Voice: 803-642-2156
Fax: 803-642-9325

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