Re: How do you read a User Manual

Subject: Re: How do you read a User Manual
From: Chuck Martin <cm -at- writeforyou -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 2004 15:23:57 -0700

John Posada wrote:

Hi, guys...I'm having a discussion with someone at my company, and
unfortunately, he's several layers above me in the company pecking
order, so I have to be careful how I approach this with him.
In a nutshell, he's telling me that users will approach a User's Manual
and read it like a novel...they start from the from and read it page
after page.
My position is that readers enter the book at any place that contains
the content to address their issue at hand.
The impact to this is that he feels information should be organized so
that as you get further in the book, you can assume the person already
knows whatever it is about the application that got them to that point
and never have to address it again, even in passing.
I'm taking the position that anywhere in the book, they need to know
something about what got them there, either in description or through
sufficient cross-referencing (which he also dislikes).

Pecking order, shmecking order.

You're the SME when it comes to User's Manuals and how they are used. simply make statements about what you know. They are facts.

I've had managers make similar claims. I simply tell them something like this: "When users need assistance, there's an order in which they typically proceed. That order usually starts with asking a cube neighbor, then IT, then calling tech support, and then, and usually only then, going to the docs. Online help is down on the list, and printed docs are further down still. They go to the docs because they can't figure out what to do from the design of the product itself. So they are already frustrated. They need to know how to get their task done. Now. The docs have to be designed so users get the information they need, when they need it."

That last point is one of my mantras: The documentation needs to be designed so users get the information they need, when they need it.

Fail in that and nothing else matters.

Or you could ask him if he read the manual that came with Word front-to-back. He'll say "What manual?" Wait. Let it sink in.

If he's at all competent (no guarantee with PHBs), it'll dawn on him that you were hired because you're an expert in this partuclar field. If he doesn't realize it, remind him.

You wanted opinions. Me, I don't suffer fools gladly.

Chuck Martin
User Assistance & Experience Engineer
twriter "at" sonic "dot" net

"I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.
The day may come when the courage of Men fail, when we forsake our
friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day!
This day, we fight!"
- Aragorn

"All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you."
- Gandalf


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