Browse through the technology section of any bookstore and you are bound to see books from Microsoft Press. If your goal is to learn about Microsoft products these are obviously some of the first books you should consider.

But which ones are right for you? After all, there are sometimes tens or even hundreds of books on a particular topic or product. And with series titles along the lines of “Getting Started,” “Step by Step,” “Running,” “Jogging,” and “Falling Down,” it’s enough to confuse Gutenberg.

Visit the Microsoft Press site and you will find that there are more than 20 different series. Some of them, though, are fairly specialized, and some of them are just for academics or senior citizens.

You should recognize some of the series at a glance. Here is some information I’ve grabbed from the site that should help you choose resources for learning a particular Microsoft product.

Getting started
Depending on how you count them, there are three or four series aimed at someone coming up to speed on a product. The first is the “At A Glance” series, which is a set of plain-English books organized into two-page spreads that show how to accomplish a particular task or operation. They focus primarily on applications and operating systems.

Then there is the “Step By Step” series. These book-and-disk packages are for people who want to learn how to use Microsoft productivity software, such as Word or Excel. The lessons are modular, so the reader can either work through all the lessons in the book or pick only the ones he or she needs to learn. The books include real-life examples and practice files.

An offshoot of the “Step by Step” series is the “Step by Step Interactive” series and its companion, the “Starts Here” series. These are interactive multimedia tutorials that allow you to work with the actual software. Animated lesson introductions and step-by-step sequences show users exactly what to do.

Moving on up to the next level
Looking for something more comprehensive? Tired of user manuals thinner than phone book for Petticoat Junction? Then you should check out the “Running” series. These are complete information resource centers for Microsoft operating systems and business applications. Each book has extensive cross-references, excellent indexes and tables of contents, and is based on first-hand experience from the earliest days of the software.

Another advanced resource is the “Professional Editions” series, which includes the Resource Kits. These books and accompanying kits are written directly within the product group, giving you the straight scoop from the people that wrote the product. Many times you will get tools and utilities included on the CD.

Are you getting ready for a test? Order one of the MCP Training Kits. These are Microsoft Official Curriculum kits, and map to the exam objectives. There is often a workbook and a video as well as the standard book and interactive CD.

Just for developers
If you write software you’ll want to check out the “Programming” series. These books can serve as both introduction to a development language or tool and as an ongoing resource. The authors are often well known as writers and/or as developers, and you will get some good info.

Just for end-users with no time to learn
If you or someone in your organization just wants to learn the minimum to be able to use Word, Excel, or some other productivity software, then get a “Quick Course” book. These are tutorials to show such people how to build typical business documents. No advanced topics, no VBA. Just low-priced, straightforward explanations of how to get certain tasks done.

Bruce Maples is an author, trainer, and speaker living in Louisville. Follow this link to comment on this article or write to Bruce .