Discuss: Third party manuals?

Subject: Discuss: Third party manuals?
From: Geoff Hart <geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Thu, 13 Apr 1995 18:13:07 LCL

Have you visited your bookstore lately? Check out the computer
section: wall to wall books on how to get the most out of PageMaker,
WordPerfect, MS Word and a host of other applications. I note, playing
devil's advocate here, that the three programs I've just named are
produced by some of the largest software companies in the world, each
of which has a reputation for spending lots of money on their
technical writers. So what's going on here?

If there are plenty of writers making a good living writing "how to"
books to supplement what these companies produce themselves, someone
must be buying these things. I've never bought one, but then, I like
reading reference manuals when I need to learn how to do something.
(Crazy, no; eccentric, yes.) If there's a decent market out there for
such books, the obvious question is "why?". What are these
independants doing that the big companies aren't doing? Should the big
companies be doing the same thing? (And if they did, would the
freelancers then write dull old reference manuals? <grin>)

For discussion: Do the third party books merely rehash the info. in
the reference manuals, providing nothing more than another look at the
same material? Or, are these books significant (superior?)
contributions that should have been shipped with the software instead
of the reference manuals? Don't treat this as a deprecation of the
efforts of Aldus et al. to produce quality documentation (no flames,
please): I love my PageMaker manual, like my WordPerfect manual, and
haven't seen a Word manual. The question extends beyond these examples
and may illustrate a significant general point.

Note: Please don't quote my whole message. If you must quote, quote
the following paraphrase:
"Geoff Hart asked: <<If we do such a great job documenting software,
why are so many people making a good living writing third party "how
to" books? What are they doing right and what are we doing wrong?>>"

--Geoff Hart geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

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