Technical authors, documents and getting lost

Via Twitter, someone responded to one of my messages with the statement, “maybe, if you need a manual, it’s a poor product”. I don’t think that’s the case, and my reply on Twitter was:

“A map is to a city, what a manual is to an application.”

Let me explain.

Imagine you need to visit a city. You can find your way around using the signposts, if you wish, or by “using your nose” to wander around. However, you may never discover the best way to get from A to B. You might also miss some really important points of interests. A map can help. A map can show you how to get to where you want to go in the most direct way. It can help you find places that are not easy to find. This is also how a manual works.

If you see a building, you might want to know if it’s worth visiting. In this case, a travel guide can help you make that decision. It can help you plan and prepare your journey. Again, a manual often serves a similar function. 

You can improve the signposting and make the navigation more intuitive. Many cities are laid out on a grid pattern, for this purpose. However, that doesn’t mean a map no longer serves a purpose. Similarly, you can improve the usability of an application, and still have a manual that adds value to the user.

One Comment

Meghashri Dalvi

I liked the concept of “map” applied to manuals. A really good point.

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