Publication Date

October 2006

Document Type



While earlier work provided a partial view of users’ preferences about manuals, for most users in most work contexts the important question remains open: What do users want in documentation? This paper presents the results of a study in which a diverse cross-section of 25 users was interviewed in depth about their needs and preferences with respect to software help systems, whether printed or on-line, that they use at work. The study’s participants indicated that they preferred documentation, whether online or printed, that is easy to navigate, provides explanations at an appropriate level of technical detail, enables finding as well as solving problems through examples and scenarios, and is complete and correct. These preferences give rise to difficult issues, including a possibly inherent tension between coverage and precision, and variation among users with respect to desired level of technical complexity of explanation.