Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
Documentation challenges from 2001
In "Read the manual! What manual?" PC World editor Stephen Banes starts out by proclaiming that computers don't come with documentation anymore, then points out several flaws in the supposedly non-existent publications. But, like Manes, I'm being a little unfair.
The complaints are the common pitfalls that ultimately, as he writes, creates a negative feedback loop that results in a further decline of quality. If the documentation is poor, users don't use it. If they're not using it, it is not seen as a worthwhile investment. While some of the assertions contradict themselves, at a superficial level Banes is right. Certainly onscreen documentation should, in theory, be more up-to-date than its printed brethren. And the common practice of scattering documents, in lots of formats in various locations, clearly results in confused and frustrated customers. Most significantly, however, is that this column is nearly 2 years old and its complaints are still valid today.