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It's easy to get feedback on installation manuals. You arrange to witness
actual installations. We did this with a processor upgrade kit, and
learned things that led to not only changing the manual, but changing the
installation tools as well.
Reference manuals are difficult to test. If possible, it's nice to flip
through well-thumbed copies to read the scribbled comments in the margins,
and to see which pages are dirtiest (indicating frequent reference).
Taking technical support calls, talking to technical support people,
and hanging out in the lab are all possibilities.
With on-line documentation, one could rig up "hit" counters for each
segment, though this would count pages that people looked at when
searching for something else the same as the real thing.
I've found that the best use for customer reply forms in the backs of
manuals is to detect improper distribution of manuals. In editions that
were allegedly strictly controlled, I've been known to address the
reply forms to myself. This allows me to detect both the distribution
of stolen copies and the improper distribution of copies by over-eager
salesmen. In either case, the miscreant never tells the engineer who
receives the document that he's not supposed to have it, so the
engineer cheerfully sends in the card requesting the entirely fictitious
additional information that I've dangled in front of him.
Robert Plamondon, High-Tech Technical Writing, Inc.
36475 Norton Creek Road * Blodgett * Oregon * 97326
robert -at- plamondon -dot- com * (541) 453-5841 * Fax: (541) 453-4139