RE: The world's most frequently read instructions

Subject: RE: The world's most frequently read instructions
From: "Humbird, Len" <len -dot- humbird -at- intel -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 1 Sep 2000 16:23:21 -0700

I would say the world's most frequently read instructions:
"Walk" and "Wait"
"Stop" and "No Parking"
"Insert coins. Make selection."
"Push to test."
"Please pull forward to the next window."

If we open it up to frequently *heard* instructions, then it becomes more
interesting:
"Beep... beep... beep" (as in an alarm clock, indicating that you should
wake up now)
"bong... bong... bong..." (as heard in a car, indicating that you forgot to
close or buckle something)

Least read but most important instructions - for a fire extinguisher:
1. Pull Pin; 2. Aim at base; 3. Sweep

Much of the communication we perform is like shorthand (remember shorthand
from high school?) or an icon: it's an abbreviated form of another idea. But
that translation form shorthand to idea requires some cultural (or tribal)
knowledge. without it, we have no context to contain the idea.

For example, the international symbols you see everywhere - from restroom
doors to highways - carry some basic meaning only because we learned about
symbols as children, and we possess associative learning skills. The
specific meaning of a frequently used symbol might be found in, say, a
driver's manual, a TV public service announcement, or some software
documentation. But the point is that it's meaning is generally well known.

We as technical communicators leverage that tribal knowledge as much as
possible because it's shorthand. That's why illustrations in a manual are so
welcomed by readers.

If you want to read about elegant utilitarian instructions, check out Before
& After (www.pagelab.com). Though it is a graphic arts magazine, publisher
John McWade has some great anecdotal articles on how we communicate.





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