Browse Prior Art Database

A User-Driven Approach to Better User Manuals

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000131369D
Original Publication Date: 1979-Jan-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Nov-10
Document File: 7 page(s) / 31K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

John Maynard: AUTHOR [+3]

Abstract

The Open Channel is exactly what the name implies: a forum for the free exchange of technical ideas. Try to hold your contributions to one page maximum in the final magazine format (about 1000 words).

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This is the abbreviated version, containing approximately 13% of the total text.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

This record contains textual material that is copyright ©; 1979 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Contact the IEEE Computer Society http://www.computer.org/ (714-821-8380) for copies of the complete work that was the source of this textual material and for all use beyond that as a record from the SPI Database.

A User-Driven Approach to Better User Manuals

John Maynard

The Open Channel is exactly what the name implies: a forum for the free exchange of technical ideas. Try to hold your contributions to one page maximum in the final magazine format (about 1000 words).

We'll accept anything (short of libel or obscenity) so long as it's submitted by a member of the Computer Society. If it's really bizarre we may require you to get another member to cosponsor your item.

Send everything to Jim Haynes, Applied Sciences, UC Santa Crud, CA 95064.

Damn you! Damn you! Damn you! I spent $100 on your user manuals and I can't understand a thing they say!" So said an irate university student recently in a letter to a mainframe computer manufacturer. Such criticisms, while perhaps not often so vehement, are not at all uncommon. And yet, we can produce good manuals -- if we carefully analyze the problems users are having. I propose three strategies: (1)reorganize the manual content and format; (2) create a new role for manual writers and the company organizations supporting them; and (3) speed up manual production and distribution. Each strategy solves a specific set of user problems.

How we attacked the problem.

The problems discussed here represent a consensus of the views of many hundreds of users surveyed during a 15-year period by Control Data Corporation, Scientific Data Systems, and Xerox Data Systems. The users' responses suggested many of the solutions as well. These surveys were among several approaches our research took.

One approach consisted of response forms placed in the back of each manual. Using these responses, we first established the problems users were having with specific manuals. We then determined the problems users were having with whole classes of manuals, such as reference manuals and user guides. Finally, we examined the problems in light of different classes of users.

A second approach consisted of surveying the members of user groups. These surveys, which involved a smaller number of users, were particularly valuable because we used them to monitor overall user reaction as we made various changes

Another approach involved personto-person contact with users. Although we made a few trips to user sites, our participation in documentation committees of user organizations was the most productive form of contact. It provided us with continuing user guidance, and it allowed us to modify the surveys of user group members to better measure their reaction to our changes.

Finally, we looked at other manufacturers' man...