Feedback please -- UK vs US manuals

Subject: Feedback please -- UK vs US manuals
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- FS -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Fri, 28 Jul 1995 14:28:43 +0800

Techwhirlers -

we develop Unix software. Our U.K. partner also writes software using
our toolset and framework. It's important that all our products have a
strong family resemblance. Their software fits in OK, but the manuals...

They favour what I regard as an old-fashioned, conservative look. 3-ring
binders, full width of the page, high text/low graphics. I believe the
U.S. style is to use more practical binding, wider margins, active white
space, and more graphics and navigational aids.

If true, these are just cultural differences, and not a matter of right
or wrong. I would guess that many U.K. readers find U.S. manuals noisy
and over-produced, and U.S. readers would find U.K. manuals dull and not
inviting to read. As in most areas, Australia is somewhere in the middle.

We've finally thrashed out a common style guide. So, our manuals should
look much the same, but there's always scope to push the style guide in
the direction you want it to go. I think they see manual layout as
largely a matter of personal preference, and one person's opinion as
good as anyone else's. I suspect they agreed to some things just to
humour me, and will be inclined to go their own way.

We are now jointly selling into the vast, lucrative U.S. market, so
it's important that the manuals work for and appeal to U.S. users.

U.K. and U.S. readers: are my stereotypes are correct?

Are USA'ns less receptive to software from other countries? If so, what
sort of things are giveaways (apart from the obvious, like color/colour)?

Is it desirable to pay for the manuals to be 'Americanised'? Or would
a mid-Atlantic style (whatever that is) be acceptable?


If the consensus is that English manuals don't hurt U.S. sales, I'm
happy to leave it there.

If many of you feel that conservative manuals present badly in the U.S.,
I'll recommend having them customised. War stories about the bad effects
of stodgy-looking manuals would be very useful here. To be honest, it
would also strengthen my hand when it comes to unifying manual design.

The developers here have quite a good attitude, but our UK partners do
not consider technical writing to be a profession unless it is contracted
out to an English company. Meow.

Thanks in advance
Stuart Burnfield slb -at- fs -dot- com -dot- au Voice: +61 9 328 8288

I believe in love, hope, truth, joy, wonder, freedom, diversity...
note that these are not necessarily the opinions of my employer

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