Are manuals out of date (no)

Subject: Are manuals out of date (no)
From: Ron Sering <rsering -at- EXCALIB -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 29 Jun 1999 08:47:08 -0700

To not sound like a me-too, the answer to the question depends. If the
software is a tool to be used as part of a larger business process,
certainly some detailed information about how the software fits into that
process is beyond what one normally sees in online help.

In general, the more complex the software, the more detailed information you
will need. For example, a corporate DBMS, with hooks into countless
processes, would doubtless need some extensive reference information beyond
online help and intuitive UI design. Some software for a home user, for
example, might need only a getting started guide. For example, I use Quicken
for my finances. It had a getting started guide that walked me through
installation and a general overview of what the software did. I read it once
and now either use the help or just figure out what I need by mousing
through the UI. I consider online help and the UI to fulfil short-term needs
(what do you need to know right NOW?) while manuals provide depth (how can
you apply the software's features and functionality to your business

The UI design has a lot to do with the decision, IMHO. I like Framemaker,
but I keep the manual readily at hand and look things up in it frequently.
The UI design is not, shall we say, very intuitive? It is also a very
complex piece of software.

As a general rule, if users need more than just step-step-instructions on
accomplishing a specific task, we are making life much harder for them by
not producing a manual to complement the online info.

Hey, if you get desperate, just tell them to do a survey and let the users
decide. Cynically speaking, they probably never would and you could continue
to produce manuals ;->

Price, adjusted for inflation: $.02

- Ron Sering

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