Re: Ideas for inexpensive manual production?

Subject: Re: Ideas for inexpensive manual production?
From: Kathryn Marshall <kmarshall -at- MODACAD -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 27 May 1998 12:23:20 -0700

What you described sounds all too familiar, and my team has been running
into a similar problem. The developers set a code freeze in the
schedule, but continue to make enhancements and change the software
beyond that deadline. We (tech writers) often feel like we're chasing
moving targets. Yet the same time, management expects the manual to be
completed (printed and bound) AND we want our users to have the most
up-to-date information.

I think you scratched the surface of a larger issue -- and that is, the
development process itself. Do your company have one? (involves
planning, writing specs, developing based on specs, revising specs if
necessary, etc, etc.) If so, then do you have a doc plan that follows a
similar path? Do you have a quality assurance cycle? Beta testing? Maybe
you could take time during the testing phase to nail down the manuals.
I've found that with more upfront planning on both the development and
documentation side, you're more likely to meet your deadlines. (Don't
forget to schedule in printing time -- in your case, an extra 3 weeks.)

JoAnn Hackos offered an excellent suggestion at the STC Conference. She
said to implement a doc freeze. I thought this was a perfect solution to
our recurring problem. Any changes to the software after the doc freeze
would be documented in release notes. I realize that your question was
how can you get _around_ sending out extra doc. I don't think there's a
quick fix -- unless you are willing to possibly sacrifice quality and
usability (in your rush to implement last minute software changes).

There are lots of on-demand printing shops (at least here in Los
Angeles). We have a great printer who prints our manuals from PostScript
files. If there are last minute changes, I can download them to their
FTP site or even e-mail them. They keep our manuals on disk, so I can
easily call them and ask for 25 more XYZ manuals -- turnaround time is
3-4 days. I think you should go this route if that's an option for you
(plus I'm not too fond of Kinko's!). If all else fails, consider adding
a "What's New" section to your manuals. Then when you have last minute
changes, all you need to do is update that one chapter and send it to
the printer (if you're using an on-demand printer). ...just a thought.

Good luck - sorry to babble on. You brought up a good issue though!

PS. Also consider distributing online manuals with the software, in the
form of PDF files. Maybe the printed manuals wouldn't be up-to-date, but
at least the online manuals could be. (?)

If you get a chance, check out - JoAnn
Hackos' web site. There's a great article on the "Information Process
Maturity Model" -- kind of gives you an idea of where your doc process
stands and where it could be.

Kathryn Marshall
Director of Documentation
ModaCAD, Inc.

> ----------
> From: Eric Thomas[SMTP:eathomas -at- DBITS -dot- COM]
> Reply To: Eric Thomas
> Sent: Wednesday, May 27, 1998 11:10 AM
> To: TECHWR-L -at- LISTSERV -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU
> Subject: Ideas for inexpensive manual production?
> My company has run into a sizeable problem in the production of
> printed
> manuals for our software. We're a small company, and doing all the
> development and CD-ROM burning in-house. It seems as though our
> manuals
> were somewhat out of date when we received them. The time between
> when I
> handed over the files to be printed and bound until we received them
> back
> to pack into our boxes was around 3 weeks. But bugs were corrected
> and
> little "features" were added in the meantime. It seemed like no big
> deal
> to do an addendum, and we did. But... this is going to happen every
> time.
> We're developing and correcting constantly, and do not ship out large
> volumes of our software all at once. Therefore, we need to find an
> economical way to make sure that our customers have the most recent
> printed
> documentation that pertains to the currently shipping version of the
> software.
> Ideally, we need to do small (5-10) manual runs. We've looked into
> taking
> our manuals to Kinko's, but it appears that they'll charge around
> $5.00 per
> manual (we have 3 per copy of our software) for spiral bound, plus
> we'll
> have to get our ad agency to come up with front and back covers that
> look
> nice, plus we'll have to do all the printing on our own printer
> (printing
> front to back) plus have to crop the printouts (they're 7x9") and, to
> make
> a long story even longer... I don't know what to do.
> Has anyone with a small company (or a large company) been in a similar
> situation. As I said, we don't send out tons of copies of a single
> release, so we need to be flexible, yet we also need to be cost
> conscious.
> Any help would be greatly appreciated.
> Thanks.
> Eric A. Thomas
> eathomas -at- dbits -dot- com
> &^~~~
> Send commands to listserv -at- listserv -dot- okstate -dot- edu (e.g., SIGNOFF
> Find TECHWR-L-related books at

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