September 01, 2002
How non-programmers use documentation

James has again pointed out an interesting article, this time How non-programmers use documentation:

I've tried to give back to the Linux community by helping with documentation. I've helped with some FAQs, HOWTOs, and am working on a large reference manual. Lately I started wondering how non-programmers actually use documentation so I asked a few. [... (random conclusions excerpted below) ...]

  • Non-programmers insist that context-sensitive, on-line help must be provided with an application.
  • Non-programmers want screen-shots in the on-line help. They don't care if it increases an application's file size.
  • Non-programmers ignore the printed manuals bundled with off-the-shelf software.
  • Non-programmers prefer information that answers the question "How do I do X?" (where X is a common use of the application).
  • Non-programmers that I talked to have never sent a bug report or a feature request to a software company. The idea of sending one directly to a programmer or a technical writer was a completely foreign concept.
Absolutely very very valid reading for software developers and people involved in writing documentation and on-line help for both application and online websites... Make sure to check out the comments as well as the original article! :-)

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... and here is a (tangentially related but good) link to an article on the perils of online documentation versus good old fashioned paper http://www.richlyon.net/weblogs/corporate_eye/archives/2002/04/the_social_life_of_paper.php. The bit on how we sort stuff is helpful, I think, for helping to understand how to organise info.

Posted by: Rich on September 2, 2002 08:59 PM
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