For this reason, I try to keep my ears open any time an author cannot understand the documentation, cannot find the documentation, or in another way has a problem with the scenery website. These "first experiences" give an idea of the real utility of the docs. Writing a reference for people who know things is not very hard - writing an explanation for new authors is much harder.
One author who was converting from MSFS to X-Plane pointed out a problem with the documentation that I hadn't realized before - but I think he's on to something. He pointed out that the information you need to complete a single project is often spread out all over the place. You probably need to look at an overview document, a file format, and a tool manual, each of which describes about 1/3 of the problem. To make it worse, each document assumes you know what the other ones say!
Who would write such poor documentation? A programmer, that's who. (In other words, em.) In computer programming, the following techniques are all considered good design and essential:
- Breaking a problem into smaller, sections.
- Limited cross-references between these sections as much as possible.
- Keeping the sections independent.
- Not duplicating information (code).
This is definitely not the only problem with the documentation, which also suffers from a lack of clarity, is often incomplete, and could use a lot more pictures. I am a programmer, and I am paid to make X-Plane faster, better, etc. It can be very hard to find the time to work on documentation when the next feature needs to be done. And yet...without documentation, who can use these features?
Now that I've at least figured out that factorization is bad, for the short term I am going to try to write "non-factored" documentation. The first test of this will be MeshTool. I am doing a complete rewrite of the MeshTool readme. Like the ac3d readme, MeshTool needs a full large-scale manual of perhaps 10-20 pages, and the task needs to be approached recognizing that the manual is going to contain a huge amount of information.
When I work on the MeshTool manual I will try to approach it from a task perspective, with explanations of the underlying scenery system, rather than a reference perspective that assumes authors might know why the given techniques work. We'll see if this creates a more usable manual.