Handbook publishing - Why and How?
Why make a handbook?
- The handbook is a part of your product. Good documentation is a competitive device!
- Good documentation is a sales argument.
- Good documentation increases the chance that a product can be used to its full capacity.
It makes the product more valuable for the customer! (Can you afford to make a
secret of the best way of using your products?)
- Good documentation facilitates training of customers and service personnel.
- Good documentation illustrates proper system function and reduces the number of
questions on how the system is supposed to
work - both from customers and from your own people. (When a customer is facing
a problem, it may happen that your key specialists get tied into
solving the problem. May be their efforts are more needed within other activities,
like product development!)
- Good documentation reduces the number of emergency visits to customers with a problem.
This will save money both for your company and for your customers.
- A handbook may also be a necessity:
As from 1995 the EC Machinery Directive is in force. From a practical point of view
this means that all CE-marked machines must have accurate instructions
on safe installation, usage and maintenance.
Who should write the handbook?
Our experience shows that, in addition to a talent for writing, a substantial technical
education is crucial for technical writing! To write a first-rate successful handbook, the
writer has to really understand what he (or she) is writing about!
Paper, CD or the Internet?
Nowadays software documentation is often supplied on a CD and not in the form of
thick printed books. This is often adequate, especially if the documentation is
only needed in exceptional cases, as most modern programs have help functions
and some documentation integrated within the program.
For a machine without a PC monitor, it is not obvious, that a CD is what the customer wants.
"Old-time" paper may be quite appropriate. Though, a service engineer now often uses a
laptop and a CD with all documentation and drawings.
With that standing at the place where he is working, the CD may be much easier to use than
a thick binder with - at worst - drawings which are out of date.
Some companies distribute the documentation to a general agent on a CD or over the
Internet. Instead of sending tons of paper around the world, they let their agent handle
the printing of the documentation. This is often done on demand just when it is needed.
So far it is quite uncommon to find handbooks and instructions on the Internet.
But this will probably change very fast. Because it is much easier and cheaper to
keep correct up to date information available on the Internet than to send out
new binders or new CD:s by mail.
The question of publishing on the Internet or not, is also a matter of availability.
Documentation on the Internet is always available without any delays!
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