TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:Listening to customers From:Elna Tymes <etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM> Date:Fri, 18 Dec 1998 12:33:08 -0800
One group we're contracting with has an (IMHO) enlightened policy of
pubs people visiting customers and asking them about documentation.
What follows is an edited quote from the report of a visit by the
TechPubs manager and one of the senior writers to one of the company 's
customers (in this case, a large Silicon Valley company):
>Our visit was brief and informal. We began by asking the group if
>was anything in particular they wanted us to change, or anything they
>wanted us to retain in our next publication of documents.
>The group told us they liked that our docs were delivered in paper
><One person> said that when the system is down, a CD is useless.
>that he liked to be able to flip between pages, which you can't do as
>effectively on CD.
>They would prefer a spiral bound format to the current 3-hole punch, so
>that the book can be left open to any page. <Another person> suggested
>put a piece of cardboard at the end of the book to give it some
>when you hold it.
>When I asked them if they care about the document packaging, i.e. the
>they replied that they do not care.
>However, the group requested that we send our docs on CD as well in
>HTML or .PDF format.
>They also requested that we put our docs on our Web page.
>When we asked if the content was good, the answer was that it was fine.
>When they look for information, they find it. They also responded to a
>question that the index was useful.
Several things to note here:
1. The customer company has been in business for a number of years, and
their people see manuals all the time. Therefore their comments can be
seen as probably indicative of similar attitudes from a lot of large
computer industry companies.
2. These folks want it all: they want paper docs, they want the manuals
on CD, and they want them on the web. What this says to me is that they
find a use for all three formats, depending on where the individuals are
when they need information. Note that our discussions on this board have
tended toward either/or points of view, especially in the latest PDF vs.
Paper discussion. Perhaps we should all revisit this issue.
3. Their comments about preferring spiral bound to 3-hole punch should
put the final nail in the coffin of manuals in 3-ring binders. I've
been saying for years that lack of desktop real estate was a motivator
toward moving from binders to either spiral or perfect bound books -
including lay-flat binding - and this simply adds to the argument
against using binders.
4. I find it interesting that they really don't care about the box the
books come in. What that says to me is that such a box is really more a
marketing tool (it makes a great place to slip in the little extra
flyers and other goodies) than an effective pubs tool. However I
personally tend to prefer the boxes because it helps me keep one
product's docs in the same place. But that's just me.