One User's Guide for Multiple Products

Subject: One User's Guide for Multiple Products
From: Linda Miller <linda_k_miller -at- HOTMAIL -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 7 Jul 1999 06:40:27 PDT

I cannot give you research or hard facts, just experience (19 years as a
tech writer). For what it's worth...

A network administrator's guide, written in information mapping(tm) style:
we had to add new procedures so we incorporated them into the manual saying
if you have this, go to page x; if you have that, go to page y, etc. The
users did not like it. They did not want to bounce to different pages to
follow their procedures. They wanted each procedure separate and distinct
even though it involved much duplicate information. Any interweaving muddied
the information and was unacceptable.

At another company, we conducted a user survey of our user guides and found
that they overwhelmingly did not want any information that was not directly
related to their job. If it was theoretical, they didn't want to know. If
they couldn't do it, they didn't want to know. If the manual was too long,
they were discouraged from plodding through it to find the choice nuggets
that applied to them. On the whole, they wanted to "just pick up the manual
when they needed an answer and have the manual drop open to the page the
answer was on." Well, we asked.

So the sum of my experience would be that a single manual for multiple
versions of a product would not be looked upon kindly by the users, but of
course that depends on your user populace who should always be asked.

Linda K. Miller

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