Computers: Feedback: A reminder about using manuals

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The Independent Online
JOHN WATSON asks (1 April): 'Whoever sat down with relish to read 50 pages of a computer manual?' I've found it was worthwhile reading through the Word for Windows manual, because I discovered that the system will do things I would never have expected it to do.

I will give an example. As well as using Word for Windows at home, I use it on temporary agency assignments, so office routines are different from week to week. It would never have occurred to me that the word-processing system could remind me of the things I'm supposed to do when I arrive in an office in the morning or when I leave one in the evening, but by reading the manual, I discovered message boxes and 'auto macros', so the 'Autoexec' macro reminds me each morning and the 'Autoexit' macro reminds me at night. I can change the message boxes at any time, so if I have the evening meal popped into the office fridge, for example, the Autoexit macro will remind me not to forget that as well.

Jean Elliot

Upminster

LAST YEAR a new British Standard was published to help those writing and producing software manuals. BS7649 is split into two parts. One part deals with the processes involved in developing manuals and can be too idealistic in the face of time and money constraints. However, the second part - which deals with structure, design, style and other vital aspects of producing an effective manual - gives superb advice.

In contrast to the US, most British technical writers have had no formal training or education in technical communication. This is changing. Coventry University runs Europe's only degree programme in technical communication. South Bank University offers an MSc in computer software documentation. Several technical consultancies run short courses for writers working in software houses.

As education, training and standards in technical communication continue to improve, users can look forward to more manuals that help not hinder.

Paul Bakker

Peterborough Technical Communication

MY WIFE and I are over 50 and are new owners of an Acorn A3010 computer. We are stumbling through the manuals which come with the machine. John Watson is quite right when he says that the index is the most important part of any manual and is the first thing beginners go to.

Do any of your readers know of an alternative manual for the Acorn.

Martin Whillock

Leeds

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