Basic documentation -- is it too much to ask for?

April 22, 2016

Max The Magnificent-April 22, 2016

I've pondered the topic of various forms of documentation on several occasions over the years; for example, do you recall my Error messages we can all understand diatribe and my Different Countries = Different Writing Styles in User Manuals discussions?

As an aside -- and I know I've dropped this tidbit of trivia into the conversation before -- I always find user manuals that are written in Israel to have a very Shakespearean “feel” to them. (I was moved to mention this because the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death will be April 23, 2016, which is tomorrow as I pen these words.) When you are reading an Israeli manual, you can almost imagine two characters on the stage, where the first exclaims "'But where are the variables?' you ask," and the second responds in a deep bass voice “Why, the variables are over here!” But we digress...

The reason for this column is that I was recently introduced to a really cool piece of technology -- a magical module I would love to use in my hobby projects -- but its creators focused only on the hardware and left the documentation simmering away on the back burner with a "We'll get round to that before we ship the product," philosophy.

Well, guess what -- they are now shipping the product with documentation that can best be described as "minimalistic" (some might say "non-existent").

The thing is that this is not an isolated incident. I've seen it happen over and over again as the sands of time have slipped through my personal hourglass.

Why, Oh why, do companies get themselves into this pickle? Don’t they realize that providing even rudimentary documentation will make everyone's lives easier? Also that the time and resources they will end up using to support the product will be inversely proportional to the quality of the documentation they supply?

What say you? Have you run across this sort of thing yourself, or is it just me?

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