Do Writers Read Manuals?

We have read umpteen times on users not reading the manual/help through documentation experts, technical writers or academicians. The reasons: are as follows:

  • Usability
  • Attitude
  • Skills
  • Navigation features
  • Poor information flow

Read this interesting research paper: http://www.cs.utep.edu/novick/papers/why.sigdoc06.pdf

The easiest way to find information~ call customer support or seek assistance from a colleague. The question bugging my mind is do “Technical writers read manuals”?

On searching the internet, I was unable to find any factual data or suvey about the context.

I met a number of senior writers and project managers disinterested in the subject. They behaved like a frustrating user unable to understand the application. I see we are more interested in showing linguistic capabalities, rather than contemplating on new ideas.

Some of the bizarre answers I get are “no time, who cares, are you nuts”. We behave in the manner users do. This attitude will drain out the creativity and will eventually lead to exit. I feel that research and startegy are the pillars of foundation to this profession. If you are stuck while working on a tool, you do one of the following:

  • Google
  • Ask your peer
  • Check the Help

I have read MS Word 2007 help and it is powerful. The most striking part of the help is the index, you type a related keyword and results shown are tremendous.

Now, I am reading ePublisher Express help and finding it an ordinary piece of work. Long sentences, hyperlinks in some topics are at the beginning or at the end. Below is one of the examples to support my claim.

Understanding Manifest Files

When you create a project based on Stationery in ePublisher Express, ePublisher copies the manifest file used by the Stationery you specify for the project and places a copy of the Stationery manifest file in the project folder for the new ePublisher Express project (44 words).

I am experimenting with thi idea, to assess if Helps are at all effective. I will reserve my judgement for now.

Why Read

Do voracious readers make better writers? I leave this to you to decide. However, reading manuals/help gives idea of “how to or not to” present information. I see we are more inclined in reading magazines, sensational news, and technology breakthroughs to keep abreast in social circuits. Not many understand that those research papers, innovation involve tremendous pain and involves enormous amount of groundwork. Sometimes reading our own manual/help is a great learning tool to begin. I read my help last month created for an IT major and could see the gaps in the information flow. Self-assesment is a poweful engine for technical writers to succeed in the industry.

Apple and Cisco have user-friendly manuals, and browsing those can actually help us know what our friends are doing!

I wrote the blog when I thought of the adage, “practice before you preach”.

RTFM>>>>>> anybody listening>>>>not interested.

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