Re: Lowest Comm.Denom./Reading

Subject: Re: Lowest Comm.Denom./Reading
From: Tom Guettler <tguettler -at- AGRIS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1998 11:31:07 -0500

George Hayhoe wrote (in reference to an earlier quote by Eric):

"...the problem is that novice users don't want to be bothered with the
underlying concepts--they've got other work to do. But without those
concepts, the cookbook instructions in software documentation make--at
best--only limited sense....The big problem, then, is how do we
communicate concepts to
people who don't want to be bothered with them so that they have the
knowledge they need to be reasonably competent in an unfamiliar domain?"

George hit the problem square on. I think this is one of our biggest
challenges as writers of help systems and training materials. For
example, in my business (accounting software), it's relatively easy to
write a how-to procedure for setting up a profit center. But what if
the user doesn't understand the concept or benefit to their company of
using profit centers? Without conceptual knowledge, the user despairs
early on of ever finding the exact sequence of steps needed to
accomplish the task. Heck, the user doesn't even know _why_ the task is
necessary in the first place. The result? Help materials are ignored.
Our support staff is overloaded. Our software is underutilized.

The answer, I think, lies in the way we look at our mission. Here at
Agris, we call ourselves the User Education department, and we're
evaluating what that title really means. We're taking 'education' more
seriously. We're taking more responsibility for understanding the
concepts which form the basis for operation of our software. We're
putting more effort into the tutorial portion of our help, so that users
have a context in which they can operate our system.

Our belief is that we're responsible for making conceptual information
available to our audience....whether or not they use it is up to them.
We're including internal staff in our definition of audience, because
staff is lacking conceptual knowledge of our product.

I'm curious if other writers have come to the same conclusion.

Tom Guettler
tguettler -at- agris -dot- com
Agris Corporation
St. Paul, MN

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