Re: Can I Have Your Opinions and Ideas on Audience?

Subject: Re: Can I Have Your Opinions and Ideas on Audience?
From: "Doug, Data Librarian at Ext 4225" <engstromdd -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 9 Nov 1994 08:58:21 -0600


This is written in reply to:

I have another question to think about relating to Audience. Do you find
management and technical people tend to overestimate the skill levels of
the audience? I was taught that in technical writing you must address the
needs of the "lowest common denominator". I have found that often this
direction is resisted.

Actually, I've begun to feel that we too often underestimate the skill
level of our audience. We get so worried about the guy who calls and can't
find the "Any Key" on the computer that we forget about our more advanced
users. These folks don't need to wade through pages of stuff telling them
to "Type the client name in the NAME field, then press <ENTER>," they want
to see how the system fits together and may need some help remembering to
press <PF2> to edit the contents of an earlier screen.

I don't mean that manuals or on-line help need always be written down, but
that materials introducing new people to the system are usually necessary,
no matter how technical folks and management resist the idea. Do you have
similar experiences?

I think it depends on the audience. For most consumer products, there's no
question that we have to get the person or business that just laid out big
bucks for our software or gadget up and running, and do it quickly.

However, if we are vending an industrial product that is expensively
installed by experts during a site visit, and those experts perform
training while they are there, the need for start-up stuff in the docs is
minimal. (Although we may want to get a look at the training materials.)
Also, if we are documenting a system run by a very experienced group of
users with a glacial turnover rate, startup stuff is probably not much of a
priority. If you had infinite time, you would do it, since there is
certainly some turnover. But, given the reality of limited resources, you
may be better off focusing your attention on the needs of the experienced
users, such as reference cards, task instructions for seldom-used
functions, or troubleshooting guides.

All that being said, yes, management does often resist anything that takes
time or money up front. That is, in a sense, their job. As much as we
sometimes hate deadlines, it's the only way anything ever gets done in
many organizations. It's up to us to show the long-term value of what we
are doing, in terms of greater customer satisfaction, reduced support
calls, faster turnaround, etc.

Doug "There are no small projects,
ENGSTROMDD -at- phibred -dot- com just incredibly bad initial

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