RE: Making them read the documentation

Subject: RE: Making them read the documentation
From: "Jane Carnall" <jane -dot- carnall -at- digitalbridges -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 17:35:20 +0100

>I've searched the archives on this, but have not found a satisfactory
answer. And,
>perhaps it needs discussing again.

Well, we've done "certification" already, so why not?

>The question: how do you get those darn users to read your beautiful

Hand out free mugs with each copy with RTFM writ large? (Or DON'T PANIC in
large friendly pink letters?)

>In my company, not only our users, but our installation people fail to
refer to the
>manual. I set it up to be either read, or quickly referred to. But still,
>installation people repeatedly ask engineering the most basic questions -
ones that are >answered easily in the manual. For whatever reason, no one
wants to read it.

Maybe your installation people are illiterate? <g> Can you set up a user
test? Put installation people in a room with a one-way observation window
and tell them to install the software using the manual only. Unless the
problem *is* that they're illiterate, ask them to note down what they find
easy and what they find hard. Watch what they do: is it clear to them what
section they should look in, or do they start every time by flipping through
the book from page 1? Do they use the index? *Can* they use the index? Bear
in mind that people exist who find Roget's Thesaurus an intimidatingly
difficult reference text.

>Maybe it's the format (in a binder--also offered online as PDF). Maybe
they're just
>lazy. All I know is, I can't seem to relate to them because I personally
read manuals
>and instructions when I have equipment that I need to know how to operate.

Me too. I eat up reference texts. Which makes people liks us the worst
possible people to user-test a manual: we *like* to RTFM. The best usability
testers would be people who *hate* to read the manual, and it looks like you
have a pool of them right there at the company. However, confronting them
and forcing them to read the documentation seems to me to be the wrong
tactics: it may be better to tell them that you are aware there is a problem
with the documentation and that you need their help to improve it.

>if they're not reading it, why is it (or me) necessary? Can the answer be
only that
>documentation is necessary for those few people who actually do read the

Hm, well, if your installation staff ring the engineering staff with
queries, they clearly *do* need assistance. And good one-on-one attention is
hard to beat, if you're having trouble doing something. But reading the
documentation is (or should be) easier, faster, and cheaper.

Jane Carnall
Technical Writer, Digital Bridges, Scotland
Unless stated otherwise, these opinions are mine, and mine alone.


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Making them read the documentation: From: S Godfrey

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