An engineer at a company once called me and asked me how much it would cost to edit a Service Manual that he had written for a medical device. I asked him to send it to me so that I could give him a quote. When I received it I saw to my amazement and horror that he had written a 200 page manual (including many graphics) in Excel. When I asked him why he didn’t use Word, he replied “I’m an engineer I know how to use Excel, not Word”.
Why do I bring this story up? For two reasons;
First of all it’s kind of funny.
Second, it shows that there is a tendency to use a tool because we have it, not because it is the most suitable tool for the job. We sometimes may have a tendency to use not only software tools that we already know but also formats and documentation types that we know. For instance if we regularly use Word and FrameMaker but are completely unfamiliar with programs that can help us to generate e-learning material, we will write a standard manual even in cases where e-learning might have been the optimal solution.
For freelancers there is an additional problem. In my experience when I suggest to clients that they think about other documentation solutions besides the standard manual they usually aren’t willing to consider it due to budgetary considerations or the desire to go with the tried and true solution. As an outsider, because you have have no influence inside the organization that is the end of the discussion. I’ll go into this in more depth in a later post (Stay tuned).