Zero Grief Policy

I evaluated lots of Windows help authoring tools for one of my early freelancing jobs. As I searched various tech writer forums for criteria, one piece of advice stood out.

One of the writers said he adopted a "zero grief policy" when evaluating any software.

  • Was the install process too manual? Chuck it.
  • After the install, did the software drop you into a blank screen and leave you to figure out what to do next? Chuck it.
  • Did the menu items and dialog boxes help you through the process or did they leave you wondering where to start? Chuck it.
  • Was the help authoring tool's model so tough to understand that you got lost in its complexity? Chuck it.

I took that advice seriously. The software I picked was going to be used by developers and non-writers after I left, so it had to be as easy as possible to use.

Now, Windows help authoring tools are not as easy to use as a text editor and never will be. But if I could get the file started, and if the menus and dialogs could help these novice users along the way with the least friction possible, then the project would be a success. (We went with Help & Manual.)

Adopting a "zero grief policy" isn't always possible, of course. But whenever I'm evaluating any purchase -- software, a car, a gadget -- I am looking at it with the typical user mindset of Don't make me think! If it causes me the least amount of grief, I chuck it.