Notes for John B. McKee Computer User Manuals in Print: Do They Have a Future?

(9) Once the open market pressures to improve software documentation had begun to act, it was a short step to the realization that the microcomputer, itself, could be a documentation tool. At that point, the useful domain of printed text as a documentation tool began to change.

The Present
(9) The first widely accepted implementation of the “new” documentation were probably the “help” key and the tutorial diskette.

He points out MSA trait of print the times generic online help is ineffective, pointing towards task oriented documentation design methodologies: I want to explore the details about the nature of print documentation overridingly advantaging print paper hand held visual forms, including printed out from PDF files.

(9) Either alternative is usually preferable to searching through a text in such situations, because the “help” key permits the user to quickly find just the help that is needed just when it is needed.
(9) If one wishes to give a user initial hands-on practice sessions, simulation of this sort is undoubtedly a more effective delivery method than the “read and type” exercises available through printed text.

His suggestion that paper documentation will include forms is kind of a silly argument, and I think we can work harder to identify the conditions under which, for any specific documentation task for some information technology system integration, designed-for-print documentation objects trump other kinds. The specific region I am identifying is the general purpose novice learning to program. I look at it by looking at those who did so specifically in the late 1970s through mid 1980s.

(10) I would be willing to bet that some years from now the average vendor documentation package will contain more paper, not less.

The Future

To the extent that the Freudian rule of ego formation is in effect, filling out a form recognized worthwhile.

(11) the corporate client, at least, is already sensitive to cost savings procedures of all sorts, and can recognize that filling out a form is a worthwhile investment.

Leads into Jones, but built into online help, not print manuals: task oriented means many specific scenarios for third party providers to provide ensures a market of a certain size range, such as all the pinball machines produced that can run pmrek.

(11) A second force which will increase the paper content of vendor documentation is the need to support the user design environment.
(11) Taking an on-line tutorial may be compared to attending a party where you know only the host. By the end of the evening, you will have shaken the hands of a number of guests, but you can scarcely claim that you know them well. A walk through any technical book store will quickly reveal that many tutorial-users fell the need for more information. Texts abound which profess to show how to apply microcomputer software to specific business or scientific problems. While the number of features any software package has is finite, these features may be combined in an infinite number of ways to produce widely varying applications; this latter task calls for more extensive skills than the rapid acquisition of software package features.

An example at the extreme end of third party documentation vendors is for large, commercial software packages from Microsoft and Oracle; there is also the unexpected market created by free, open source software and protocol solutions lacking large revenue streams to fund technical writing.

(11) Most vendor documentation packages I have looked at have an extensive and complete facilities review which covers in detail the features of the software. However, the fact that most popular software vendors do not address the design area adequately is proved by the thriving third party business in books and seminars which do address the design environment. As a general rule of thumb, if a software product achieves about a million dollar a month in gross sales, it can expect to be specifically targeted by third party documentation and CBT firms whose express purpose is to improve on the weak areas of vendor documentation.

Even the market filled by default by the software vendor.

(11-12) Paying more attention to design issues is one strategy which will allow new vendors to claim added value for their software, and to compete more effectively for established markets.

He is predicting microcomputer documentation, whose volume will quickly swamp mainframe systems documentation, will also provide new employment opportunities for future generations of documentation specialists.

(12) some predictions about the general shape of software documentation in the future.

Apply this availability of other media to OLPC; note that specialized teams exist virtually if not explicitly.

(12) What has changed is not the power of print, but the availability of other media. One of the most interesting challenges that will face documentation specialists of the future will be determining the best mix of media for a given set of documentation tasks.

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