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Published on March 3rd, 2007 | by Rahel Bailie

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Showing that users do RTFM

An interesting blog post about users who not only read the user manuals, but pay dearly to get their hands on them, and attribute their superior product successes to having read them. Why? The short answer is because the companies were willing to invest in the quality of the materials. Instead of the “let’s pick the cheapest writer that claims to be able to create a manual in the least amount of time” to create content of average quality, it is clear that these companies have made the effort to get writers with a certain knowledge of communication or learning theory, and the end product has reflected the needs of the user and the brand. A little bit of instruction, a little of gaming, a little bit of motivation, some good navigations tools, and packaged in a strong visual (let’s face it, the days of a Word doc with Times Roman text is so over) that it draws users in.

This echoes my sentiments all along – so why don’t we see more of this in the technical communication world? Are tech writers so lacking in imagination that we can’t think these things up? Possibly, but I suspect that’s a minority of writers. Are tech writers so used to being shouted down by the budget-holders who don’t see the value in engaging documentation that they’ve given up? I think we’re getting closer. Is the company culture one that leaves tech writing right till the end, when the writers barely have time to throw together some form of document just-short-of-fiction to include with the product so that it gets out the door at the same time as the product? I suspect we’re getting closer to the reality of many writers’ lives. (For those writers’ tsk-tsking the notion, you don’t know how lucky you are!)

Hoorah for Kathy Sierra (“chief poohbah” of Head First books) for spelling this out in such a clear way.


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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,



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