Re: Documentation for beta testers

Subject: Re: Documentation for beta testers
From: Angela Howard <angela -at- SB -dot- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 7 Jan 1997 10:58:08 -0800

On Mon, 6 Jan 1997, "Marlene J. Geary" <marlene -at- NECA -dot- COM> asked:

>Question - Is there anyone out there who issues "beta" documentation to
>customers who are "beta-testing" software? "Beta-testing" here is defined
>as customers who purchase the software before its official release. They
>are the second round of testers for the product.

Yes. The beta testers are customers, not in-house people, so they need
documentation for the new features they are testing. We give them a separate
release notes document that describes all the new features (sometimes the
release notes are over 100 pages long). It's actually a great beta test of
the documentation, too. Before the beta test period begins for each new
release of a product, both the code and the documentation must be "feature
complete", meaning all the features planned for the release are working and
documented. During beta testing, we get feedback from the beta testers,
internal QA, and all the developers who were too busy coding to read it
earlier. We revise the documentation accordingly and integrate the new
feature documentation into the full product document set. The entire
document set is reprinted when the product officially ships.

>1) Do you ever hear feedback on the beta docs from these beta customers?

Yes. We hand-pick our beta testers from the customers who are the most eager to
get the new features (so we know they will use it) and the most vocal about
what they like and don't like in the code and the documentation.

>Actually - do the people and companies that sub to this list get a lot of
>feedback regarding the manuals produced by their respective departments?

We get the most feedback from the beta testers, but we do get some feedback
from other customers after the product has shipped.

>My doc group gets very little in the way of feedback regarding our work.
>Much of what we do get consists of "it needs work" and "you don't have any
>write-ups on this."

We let our customers email us from our web site to make it easy for them to
give us feedback. And, yes, usually people will only make the effort to
contact us if there is a problem. However, I have been pleasantly surprised
a lot of times by customers who will compliment the documentation even as
they're pointing out a mistake. For example: "I just wanted to point out
that on page 47, there's a step missing. You have to follow the ABC link
before you can get to the DEF function. By the way, the XYZ Guide is really
well-written overall."

>Does anyone here survey their customers on the documentation they produce?

No. We just give them an email address on our web site to write to if they
have problems with the documentation.

Angela M. Howard
Technical Writing and Indexing
angela -at- sb -dot- aol -dot- com
(805)882-2350 x126

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