Improving User Experience in Manuals by Anastasios Karafillis.
From the post:
The manual: possibly the most awkward part of a user’s experience with a product. People avoid manuals whenever possible and designers try to build interfaces that need not rely on them. And yet, users and designers would certainly agree that you simply must provide a proper manual.
The manual can be a powerful tool for unleashing the full potential of an application, something of benefit to users and vendors. Why is it, then, that manuals so often seem to confuse users rather than help them?
Let’s look at the most common difficulties faced by technical writers, and how to best deal with them to improve the user experience of manuals.
“…a proper manual.” Doesn’t seem to be a lot to ask for.
I have seen some better than others but they were all fixed compromises of one sort of another.
Ironic because SGML and then XML advocates have been promising users dynamic content for years. Content that could adopt to circumstances and users.
Instead we gave them dead SGML/XML trees.
What if you had a manual that improved along with you?
A manual composed of different levels of information, which can be chosen by the user or adapted based on your performance with internal tests.
A beginning sysadmin isn’t going to be confronted with a chapter on diagnosing core dumps or long deprecated backup commands.
A topic map based manual could do that as well as integrate information from other resources.
Imagine a sysadmin manual with text imported from blogs, websites, lists, etc.
A manual that becomes a gateway to an entire area of knowledge.
That would be a great improvement in user experience with manuals!