Usually no one wants to read user's guides. People prefer to try and solve things intuitively when using new hardware or software. Unfortunately, that doesn't always work. Then it's very handy to have a user's guide or online help nearby.
We at OSIS have had a department for writing and producing user's guides and online helps from the beginning. Since I started out in 1996, there have been a number of changes. The essential expectations remain the same, however.
We editors try to look at our software the way our customers do. Practically speaking, this means just describing what is necessary – not getting bogged down in detail. We work hard to keep things as simple and easy to understand as possible – not too technical and not overly detailed.
These expectations and increased experience over the course of the years have resulted in significant changes to the structure of our user's guides. Today, we have step-by-step manuals for helping beginners to work with our image programs easily as well as providing more advanced users with more in-depth background information.
Over the years, our range of products has grown steadily. Today we have a wide variety of products that have been developed with a very specific target clientele in mind. Products may be similar to one another, but so very different in detail, that user's guides and online help must be adapted accordingly. This requires other, more flexible documentation concepts!
With increasing globalization, more and more languages are in demand. Today, alongside user's guides and online help in English, French and German, we also produce documentation in Japanese and Chinese. Just managing and administering all the files needing translation is practically a full-time job in our department.
Despite introducing a Translation Memory System (computer assisted translation) and motivated colleagues, it isn't always easy meeting deadlines. But that's really due to the way things are – our software is constantly evolving and it remains ongoing challenge keeping pace.
It has been and continues to be an exciting challenge describing the products developed by our R&D departments. And even after so many years, I still really enjoy tackling the tasks facing us with my international team.