Re: Reading the manual as a last report

Subject: Re: Reading the manual as a last report
From: arroxaneullman -at- aol -dot- com
To: christine -dot- a -dot- anameier -at- usps -dot- gov, techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 24 Mar 2006 13:23:47 -0500

Anameier, Christine A - Eagan, MN - Contractor <christine -dot- a -dot- anameier -at- usps -dot- gov> commented:
> Somebody recently made an interesting comment on how users who have a
> problem with software typically ask the person next to them, or call
> tech support, rather than look in the manual or the online help. I've
> been searching and I can't seem to track down that post -- if someone
> has it handy and could forward me a copy or repost it, I would be
> grateful.
> Does anyone have links to published studies or articles on this topic?
> It would also be interesting to know whether users tend to prefer online
> help over printed manuals. Maybe it's all spinach to them.

I believe that 'somebody' was me. I know I've seen these studies, but I don't recall the resources offhand. Probably several books and articles about online communication and Help. You might search through Intercom and TechComm archives . At the least that should get you started.

Here's my original post:

Steven Brown <stevenabrown -at- yahoo -dot- com> asked, "Why don't people read what we write? Are we at all

A number of very good answers exist.

Foremost is the expectation of readers that they will not easily or accurately find what they need. People deal with so much disorganization in life that they learn to be suspicious of anything claiming to have the answers.

When faced with a question, the easiest thing for most of us is to ask another human. We know from experience that Joe knows Sue's pone number; why should we take the time to look it up in the phonebook or online? But if Joe's not around, we go the next fastest source of information. And so on down the line until we get to manuals and references.

The problem with manuals and such is that oftentimes what the user is asking is not expressed the way it is in the manual. For instance, your question is "How do I contact Sue" and the manual has that information under "Phoning Peers." An ideal index would include every synonym and possible variation for every question that a user has so that you could easily find the answers. But, that is impossible to accomplish.

Basically, the nature of manuals is that they are slower and less effective than humans, so people refuse to use them (or online help, etc).

As technology advances and people learn more about how we think, communicate, and learn, this gap may close. It is our responsibility as technical communicators to stay with these transitions and use them to the best of our ability.

Or else we'll all just have to learn to read the friggin' instructions. ;)


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Reading the manual as a last report: From: Anameier, Christine A - Eagan, MN - Contractor

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