How non-programmers use documentation an interesting thread at Advogato.

Would be maybe more interesting to find first what kind of user
categories are out there. I know I found myself such users who
had to write down all the steps for sending an email. But those
users where maybe prime time computer users (I know for sure that
they where) and it was a rare phenomenon. Not writing
documentation at all because some don’t use it is not a choice.

Knowing well who are your target users might help you identify
what kind of documentation to write. There might be no point in
writing stories for experienced computer programmers but it
would make sense to do that to casual computer users.

So, identifying user stereotypes might be a good idea, but
unfortunately a search on Google revealed no statistics but a
couple of jokes
and some research documents related to modeling
user stereotypes.

Anyway, maybe a good start to good documentation is writing it
well. And
here is a paper much appreciated on this subject.

There also seems to be some ISO standards for writing user

  • IEC 18019
    Guidelines for the design and preparation of software user
  • ISO/IEC 9127
    User documentation and cover information for software
  • ISO/IEC 15910
    Software documentation process

But then again, these documents are not for free 🙁

Leafing about Microsoft is not a good idea. Usually these
companies has put lot of money in usability and user behavior
research and this is good. I don’t use their help system (hell I
don’t even use their operating system) but most of the users do
(how much of the desktop systems they own?) and even if some of them
complain most of the users are able to use it.

Some companies even publish the result of this researches so why don’t we take
the opportunity and learn something on their expense 😉