Reading *all* the instructions

Subject: Reading *all* the instructions
From: "David Castro" <thejavaguy -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 8 Aug 2007 19:47:18 -0400


I've seen (and participated in) discussions on this list in the past
about how we, as technical communicators, frequently fall into the
trap of not reading documentation because we're so accustomed to
having to figure things out ourselves. Unfortunately, I fell into this
trap twice this week.

Healthy Choice has a new kind of microwave meal that steams the food
in addition to microwaving it. If you read the instructions, it tells
you that the newly-designed bowls vent themselves, so you don't need
to puncture the film, as you do with other meals. I read that part.
But you get further on, after it tells you how long to put it in, and
it tells you to let it set for 2 minutes before eating. I'm used to
that being the last instruction in a set of instructions, and so I
didn't read any further. So, I didn't know that you're supposed to
detach the top bowl from its perch and drop it into the bottom bowl.
Not knowing that caused me to eat the meals with only about 10% of the
sauce that came with the meal!

If it hadn't been for me telling my mom on the phone just now how
great the meals were, and how I was thinking about taking a bowl to
work to pour the two parts into, I may have never known that I was
missing an instruction. I told her that if I was writing instructions
for something that I knew the reader was accustomed to doing a
different way, and it had a different or extra step at the end, the
first instruction would be to read all the way through the

Would you do the same? Have you ever done this in any of your
documentation? I'm sure I've seen it done elsewhere, but I can't
remember where. Maybe a ...for Dummies book?

-David Castro
thejavaguy -at- gmail -dot- com

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