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Manuals, Technical Notes, Movies, Doh!



What kind of supporting documentation do you prefer to follow when you attempt to learn a new piece of software?

The inspiration for my last post on Ease of Use came from a discussion I had with my colleague Arvin Moser. Arvin has spent many years with ACD/Labs as a Technical Support Specialist for ACD/Labs and is now an Application Scientist. Arvin knows the learning curve of ACD/Labs software very well.

Following my post last week Arvin and I continued an interesting discussion about user manuals and their usefulness. Arvin was kind enough to summarize our conversation for me and here it is:

Ask anyone who buys a piece of
software for their computer whether they feel better that software comes with a
manual and chances are everyone will say YES. The thought of having a manual is
like a security blanket in case things go bad.

Since there are so many variations
of manuals, let me list what I deem to be a manual, or at least what I’ve seen
that comes with a piece of software. There are the instruction manuals, the
tutorials, the guides, and reference manuals. They can be stored on a DVD,
online and/or in hardcopy form. Online manuals are a convenient way for those
users who cannot seem to find older or lost manuals. Electronic manuals have
the advantage of allowing key word searching and thus narrow done the bit of
information you really need.

Taking it a step further, how many
people actually spend the time to read the manual? I doubt that number would be
very high especially if it spans more than 20 pages. Most people like to
install software and run with it. How many people do you know that have read
the manuals that come with Microsoft Excel 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007?
Not a very exciting read, I’m sure.

To simplify matters, many pieces of
software come with a quick guide sheet that holds the crucial instructions on a
single piece of paper. Not bad and probably the easiest thing a computer
company can do to help out its users.

How about those people who do not
like to read or can’t read? Then what? Movies are a great way to teach visually
what sometimes cannot be easily explained with words and diagrams. Interactive
movies add the benefit of enabling viewers to test what they learn without
messing up the software directly. Other things that come to mind are word of
mouth from an expert user (i.e. Live Help,
technical support, user forums, and on-site or
online training sessions.
In a society built on diversity, the key seems to be to provide venues
to satisfy as many people as possible.

There are so many possibilities. Let
me pose this question:

Should a company that produces software offer all these

What facet do you prefer?

Feel free to add your comments on the blog.