Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
Guidebooks for the smart but uninformed
"The Missing Manuals are a thrill because they reverse the usual formula for guidebooks. Most manuals assume you have some knowledge, but no intelligence. Pogue [the author] assumes you have some intelligence, but no knowledge. He reminds constantly rather than assumes you remember. That shift makes a huge difference. Pogue knows you are entering the book at random and have not read all previous chapters, so he will always explain things from the bottom, not assume short cuts, and he does this without being pedantic, verbose or repeating himself. That systematic attention is the ultimate consideration for the perplexed."
The Missing Manual books are often praised for their style and exhaustiveness, but these astute observations by an accomplished writer and technologist should give pause to every technical writer. Do your instructions assume that users are smart, or just uninformed? You may not be able to add cartoons and jokes to your manual -- that's best left to Pogue anyway -- but perhaps you can adopt his perspective.