How should we deliver documentation to users?

Dear Fedora Diary,

I’ve noticed that many people on Fedora Planet are posting daily-ish activity logs. I don’t contribute on a daily basis, so uninterested readers won’t have to put up with too much, but it seems like a reasonable thing to do. In the future, I’ll call it “Fedora Diary”, but today there are actual things to discuss.

It all started at 9 AM yesterday when I showed up in IRC for the Docs meeting. None of the usual leaders-of-meeting were around, so I took initiative and ran the meeting. I’d done this once before, so I didn’t screw up too badly. I’d say I need more practice, but I don’t want anyone to get any ideas.

At the end of the meeting, Pete made a comment about how cluttered the wiki is. His point is valid. With end user documentation mixed in withย  internal minutes, agendas, etc., it can be challenging to find the right page. Even with a good search term, it’s not always evident which page is the right page, and that can frustrate users who just want to find the relevant nugget to fix their immediate problem.

Petr suggested that all user-intended documentation should be in the guides produced by the Docs team. I understand the sentiment, but I’m not sure it works. Certainly there’s a place for user documentation on a wiki, even if it gets reproduced in a guide. The real issue is that guides and wikis are different tools, and have different purposes. I’m not sure that there’s an advantage to exclusivity in medium.

This brings me to what I consider the more interesting question. How do users get the most benefit from documentation? I don’t know what sort of research (if any) exists on the subject, but it seems like something that should get figured out. Perhaps that’s a reasonable direction for my M.S. thesis?

2 thoughts on “How should we deliver documentation to users?

  1. I don’t have any research to support my opinions, but I’m going to put them out there, anyway. (Hey, that’s what the Internet is for, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    I think everything should be search-driven. Organize the docs anywhere — a wiki is fine. Use GNOME Shell or a CLI tool to search local help, search the wiki, and do some special Google-fu to return a page of useful exerpts. Clicking opens the appropriate app.

  2. That’s a very good idea. I think the difficulty lies in search technology. For example, TikiWiki’s search, at least in the versions I’ve used, is of no help on large wiki’s. MediaWiki seems to have a better search function, but it is still limited. Even Google fails when the search isn’t worded well enough. Can we count on non-technical users to be able to properly word a technical search?

    As software is better able to understand natural language (between Apple’s Siri and Google Voice’s voicemail transcription, this should move forward more and more quickly), search becomes a much more viable option. Constraining the search utilities to a specific site (e.g. could help make searches more relevant in the short term.

    The question then shifts to “how should documentation writers maintain documentation?” Here we go again. ๐Ÿ™‚

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