Fewer and fewer novices...

Subject: Fewer and fewer novices...
From: "Johnson, Dick D" <Dick -dot- Johnson2db8ef -at- PSS -dot- BOEING -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 22 Jun 1999 07:04:49 -0700

Mark's questions here are well placed and are applicable in virtually any area where you are writing. Most of these questions seem to address software and the experience of the user. It is not normal for the writer to be burdened with this decision. Normally, this would result from market research and the decision would be made by the writer's customer. Unfortunately, it does get passed on to the writer and it is not fair. However, when that happens, it becomes CYA time again. Remember, the key is to discuss this with your customer and arrive at an informed decision. If you have to guess, you need to use the simple assumption: "Assume your reader is intelligent, but uninformed."

Mark's stats on PCs in homes may be very accurate. In actuality, he has already told the story and what must be done to provide a high quality, professional product for the end user, from a marketing and customer service viewpoint. Even if over 50% of the homes in any country have PCs and, therefore, represent a viable market, the remaining sub-50% of the homes also are still potential users as many/most of those homeowners are considering the purchase of a PC. What does this mean? Simple. Almost 50% of your potential client base is a novice...at least with this new product, whatever it is. This now fortifies the above quote again. Experienced users may become bored with some of the steps in installation and are able to jump ahead, but what about the remaining half (potentially) of the users. Is your customer willing to tie up valuable customer service resources to telephone instruct/troubleshoot for users when it was possible to write this on the package or in a bookl!
et? Now it becomes a question of logic and economics. Again, it places itself outside the scope of the writer's responsibility.

Bingo, you're back to where you started because the customer dumped the decision on you...unfairly. What do you do? Assume your reader is intelligent, but uninformed. Using this as your datum line for starting, you will be safe, and your readers will be able to cope with the product, both novice and experienced. It has worked for me for 35+ years. This tidbit of advice is still applicable and worth a great deal more than what you are paying for it now.


Dick Johnson

Mark wrote:
A couple of recent posts have argued whether there are still
enough novices to justify the assumption that your user is a

I think we are all agreed that audiences differ in their
experiences and knowledge. However, I would have thought that,
as a general rule, exactly the opposite is the case. There are
more and more novices these days because computer use is, though
still very limited, spreading very quickly.

Currently in the Republic of Ireland roughly 25% of households
own a computer (or so I've read - seems very high to me). In
most of Africa the figure is more like 0.01% and I would guess
the same is true for most of Asia.

I think it is only in North America that the figure tops 50%, so
the idea that most people are familiar with computer concepts
seems wrong.

Richard D. Johnson Jr. (Dick)
Tech Writer, Software Documentation
425-234-7727, MS 6C-LU

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