Re[2]: New slant: professionalism

Subject: Re[2]: New slant: professionalism
From: Richard Mateosian <srm -at- CYBERPASS -dot- NET>
Date: Sat, 2 May 1998 15:00:36 -0700

>I, too, hear the "terrible computer manual" refrain constantly. But almost
>invariably the speaker is referring, not to manuals on some ancient system,
>or some large mainframe, but specifically to the manual that shipped with
>the software on their home computer -- Word, Filemaker, Excel, et al.

I remember the pleasure I used to have in reading those old IBM "Principles of
Operation" manuals in the early 1960s.

Rarely, nowadays, can you get a clear idea of how the innards of your system
work. If you can't find documentation of how to do what you want to do, it's
unlikely that you can figure it out from basic principles. That's why there's
such a clamor for task-oriented documentation.

This is true despite the fact that today's writers know a great deal more
how to communicate technical information than writers did then. The systems
more opaque, and it puts a great burden on the writer to dig deep, find the
underlying logic, then transform it into a coherent metaphor that the end user
can reason from.

This is almost impossible in the absence of a well designed user interface, so
writers must involve themselves early and deeply in the user interface design
process. Online help systems begin to make this happen, but they must
ultimately integrate much more completely with their underlying products than
the best ones of today's generation do.


Richard Mateosian <srm -at- cyberpass -dot- net>
Review Editor, IEEE Micro Berkeley, CA

© Copyright 1998. All rights reserved.

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