The perils of writing software manuals

No, please, not an upgrade NOW!!

No, please, not an upgrade NOW!!

Writing software manuals or books, or even mini tutorials on how to do something in a particular program comes with a huge occupational hazard. The software providers don't owe you anything, and so there is nothing to stop them changing something fundamental after you've finished your writing.

Last year I took a book out of the library called "Squarespace 6 for Dummies" or something, and it had hardly been touched. Not surprising, given the fact that Squarespace 6 had been unceremoniously declared defunct, and superseded by version 7.

I also came across this description of a nightmare scenario in which the writer says his book on Squarespace 6 was just about to go to the printers when Squarespace 7 took over: My Squarespace 7 book.

What can you do to avoid such a situation? I think there are three solutions:

1. Get hired by the company themselves to write an official guide. Easier said than done, obviously.

2. Somehow become part of the inner circle or favoured few of the company concerned. Whenever Microsoft brings out another version of Office, say, there is always a handful of books available more or less immediately about the new version. Unless those writers can polish off a book in a weekend, they must have been privy to developments from the outset. Again, not an easy thing to do.

3. Write a book based on one particular version, and make it clear that's what you've done. With Squarespace, that wouldn't have done you any good because it's cloud-based, meaning that everyone on Squarespace 6 automatically got transferred to Squarespace 7, or so I believe. But with other products, bear in mind that not everyone upgrades when a new version comes out.

I, for example, am still on Office 2007 simply because I believe in the old adage, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

I suppose a 4th approach would be to not write manuals about cloud-based services. I'm not getting at Squarespace in my using it as an example -- all cloud-based services carry the same degree of risk to the writer.

Perhaps the main lesson to be learnt is to write the manual and get it published as quickly as possible!