Cherryleaf Technical Authors' Blog
A blog site from Cherryleaf. We write that missing information your users really need.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
How do Brain Rules affect technical authors?
Yet again, a post by Garr Reynolds has made me wonder about how his advice about presenting crosses over into the world of technical authoring.
Garr's latest post is about Dr. John Medina's book "Brain Rules", which has 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school. He's also created a slideshow about the book:
Here are my initial thoughts on how some of the rules affect technical authors:
ATTENTION | Rule #4: We don't pay attention to boring things
Medina states multi-tasking is myth. We need to dedicate our attention to one thing at a time. In this situation, a paper manual scores, as we can read it in a peaceful and distraction free envionment. That's a lot harder to do with on-screen information, with email notifications and other "noise" vying for our attention.
SHORT-TERM MEMORY | Rule #5: Repeat to remember.
Do we expect users of user manuals, and Help files in particular, to remember what is contained within them? Are they there simply to be followed and then forgotten?
VISION | Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.
Technical manuals probably don't contain enough images. This may be because they are hard to maintain, authors are wordsmiths rather than graphics designers, and they take time to do. Writers of Help files avoid using screenshots to avoid users confusing the Help file with the application itself. However, given the effectiveness of visuals, perhaps they should include more?
What do you think?
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Business guide to Twitter
Monday, May 12, 2008
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The eee pc and the right to remix documentation dilemma
Last week we purchased and received an Asus eee pc 900. Its popularity illustrates the dilemma manufacturers will face in the future, with regard to their user documentation/user assistance.
The eee pc is a ultra portable laptop, which costs roughly a fifth of the price of an Apple Airbook or a Sony Vaio.
It runs on Linux and it was originally designed for children, which explains why it is so cheap. It has a simple interface that provides links to the key software but restricts you from doing much else.
Its low cost, low weight and size means the eee pc is popular outside its target audience. The consequence of which is Asus now has a group of users who want to do more with the laptop than was originally intended. They want to add more software and access the Linux desktop hiding underneath.
The manual supplied provides basic, but usable, information on how to use the laptop as originally designed. It doesn't provide any more detail than that. So, as a consequence, a number of Web sites have developed, such as eeeuser.com, which tell users how to access the advanced features.
The problem for Asus is they now have a group of users making modifications to their laptop, based on completely unofficial information. Users have to trust this information is correct - hoping it won't trash their machine.
Here's the dilemma:
Should Asus distance itself from this information? They might miss out on sales to business users if they do.
Should Asus let its documentation be "remixed" - supplemented with additional, more geeky information from users? The information might be incorrect.
Should Asus moderate this user information in someway? They might end up with more support calls if they do.
So what should they do?
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
How will the Semantic Web affect user documentation?
Tim Berners-Lee said, in 1999:
I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize.
Today, the Semantic Web means that data may be re-used in ways unexpected by the original publisher.
What does this mean to technical communicators?
Is the Semantic Web "a good thing" for technical communicators?