Tuesday, September 9, 2008

RTFM

This is not going to be a rant about how "kids today are lazy" and "everyone wants to be spoon fed" I've done that and enjoyed it, as have others on the mailing list. No, instead I want to explore why there is less manual reading these days...

So, this comes up because we got a request from someone via e-mail to see if they could "buy" any tutorials or training material on ANSYS. We sell an APDL guide but don't sell other stuff because we either give it away in the "The Focus" or feel that everything you need to know is in the manual. In fact, to be honest, most of what we publish in The Focus is just a condensed summary of what we find in the manuals. Not much else to it.

After spending way to much time on this I don't think it is laziness or anything like that. I blame two things: Microsoft and "An Idiot's Guide..." Microsoft (and other consumer software people) have lowered the standard on documentation to such a pitiful level, that people no longer assume that the answer is in the documentation. They go straight to forums to ask questions or search because reading the manual has never paid off in the past.

And the "Idiot's guide" don't get me started!!!!! Almost as bad as the children's story "Rainbow Fish." If you create a serious of books under the assumption that the reader is stupid, you have lowered the bar even further. Technical writers now feel that they need to write down to the users, and not expect the users to be smart and capable.

The problem is, there is not much we can do about it. Write a good manual, and no one reads it. But I feel better complaining about it.

If you are a new user and you are looking for those tutorials and hints, read the ANSYS manuals. They are very detailed, written well and consistent. So RTFM.

3 comments:

Fern Thomassy said...

Most successful complex CAE codes have really good manuals. I've made great use of ANSYS, ABAQUS and ADAMS manuals. Each is different but, once you are familiar with them, they provide rich content. The problem is that qualifier, "once you are familiar with them". The user question in Eric's example, in my mind, highlights the only major hole in ANSYS documentation … a tutorial section (I mean beyond the Verification Manual).

The ADAMS manual has some great tutorials that walk a user through nearly every mouse click. This is NOT the same as an "idiot's guide". It simply create familiarity with how the program works. Even after years of experience I may walk through one to learn a new function. Once you get a feel for the program's structure you can apply and customize what you learned and go beyond mouse clicks.

So RTFM is good advice and really the only advice given the ANSYS help resources. But some good step by step tutorials in TFM would accelerate learning for the new user.

Keith_DiRienz said...

I am a huge fan of printed manuals. There is no substitute for thumbing through a hardcopy of a printed manual. On line documentation is very good for locating information you need or answering specific questions you have. But the problem is that people use it just for those purposes. Some of the best bits of information I've ever gotten from a manual was information I never started out looking for. I will see a word or a phrase or a drawing of something that looks interesting in the index or on the adjoining page of what I was originally looking for, and that will expose me to capabilities and features I never thought to look for in the first place. Sure, you can do this with the on line documentation as well but it tends to be much more focused and directed rather than a passive activity like paging through a book. Maybe we should change the acronym from RTFM to RTFOLD (Read The Fine On Line Documentation)

jajohnson said...

This is a great opportunity to advertise my new book "ANSYS Classic 11.0 for Dummies". See an image of the cover here...

http://i33.tinypic.com/2u6zhup.png