Re: Making them read the documentation

Subject: Re: Making them read the documentation
From: John Cornellier <tw -at- cornellier -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 26 Apr 2001 11:44:07 +0200

> how do you get those darn users to read

There are three main reasons why people don't RTFM:
1. people don't read much of anything
2. it's wimpy to go for help
3. most doc is crap, at least that's the perception

1 - Most people just don't read much nowadays. They rely on TV for information. That's cultural and largely outside our control. That said, I as a writing professional consider it my own responsibility to encourage people to read -- mostly by making what I write more readable.

2- People like to see themselves as "rugged individualists". This manifests itself in all sorts of ways (using a 4X4 truck to drive around in a city, etc.) one of which is not reading user manuals.

3- Virtually all people have a very negative attitude towards doc which is well-founded on previous experience. It is a sad truth that it is often easier to try hit & miss than to trawl through a verbose, badly-structured, and poorly-indexed doc. While we're kinda stuck with that (even the gods cannot change the past) we should as TW professionals try to give users an positive doc experience that will undo the previous bad experiences with doc.

Attitudes which have been formed through experience cannot usually be changed by argument -- they can only be changed by other experiences. "The scalded cat is afraid of cold water", goes the French proverb.

Anecdotal evidence: Recently I bought two complex products. Both are high-profile tech-devices from major household names. Quality of the doc? Two thumbs down. Why? The paper manual for the $800 digital camera has a poor index, is badly written, badly organized, badly cross-referenced, has clip art from (I'm not kidding) the '60s ....

The other product is the "pro" version of a major software program. Most of you have a read-only version on your 'puters. There is no help with the product (and no, the UI is not intuitive). When you click "help" you are directed to HTTP. Well it's not my fault that in my town there is no cable, just dial up access to the Internet. So that's pretty inconvenient. Then "web help" is unsearchable, and contains about one paragraph of info per slow-to-download page.

No wonder users don't read the doc. But hey, with so much bad doc out there, there's plenty to be done!

John Cornellier


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Making them read the documentation: From: S Godfrey

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