Re: End-user doc kits?

Subject: Re: End-user doc kits?
From: Bob Morse <morse -at- INXPRESS -dot- NET>
Date: Fri, 28 Jul 1995 14:13:28 GMT

jtaylor -at- frame -dot- com (John Taylor) wrote:
>So what X does is provide the
>developer/customizer with an end-user doc kit, containing
>materials/templates/instructions for producing end-user docs.

>Does this sort of thing ever happen? Anyone know of anything like this?

I tried to develop a do-it-yourself doc kit a few years ago, more for
small-scale and proprietary software developers than for end users, but I
spent too much time barking up the wrong tree and never finished it. It
was a lot like you describe: modular/mix-and-match outlines, boilerplate
text, and DTP templates. I think my biggest mistake was in spending so
much time on the contents (boilerplates), trying to generically describe
all the various permutations of user-interface elements while the industry
kept evolving and refining those elements -- an ongoing/perpetual process.
(Another tech writer I met earlier this year described the work of
software documentation as "trying to change a tire on a moving car.")
There was just too much variation to cover all the bases, and meanwhile the
emphases/approaches to user doc were changing away from novice-user
fundamentals (easy to "genericize" and boilerplate) and toward
application-specific notes. As PCs became more and more commonplace (say,
between 1987 and 1992), our target users became more and more
sophisticated, and no longer needed all the elementary hand-holding that
used to consume such a good chunk of the manuals.
I think a better approach would be to devise an interactive expert Q&A
routine, to extract a few critical kernels of application notes, then plug
those values into just a few boilerplates, plug the customized boilerplates
into an outline (customized from mix-and-match standardized outline
modules), and then dump it all into a DTP template. This approach would
by necessity leave many gaping holes in the content, but would at least
provide a skeleton structure on which the end user could hang the
app-specific details. (The end result should, of course, be passed through
a competent technical editor to smooth out the rough edges.)

Bob Morse email: morse -at- inxpress -dot- net
Badger SoftWerks voice phone: 608-437-3348
Mt. Horeb, WI

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