Re: Studies relating to documentation density and getting the user to read the manuals

Subject: Re: Studies relating to documentation density and getting the user to read the manuals
From: Peter Neilson <neilson -at- windstream -dot- net>
To: The Documentation Doctor <documentationdoctor -at- googlemail -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2009 09:34:24 -0500

Historically, one of the leaders in the Industry (Business Machines)
solved this problem through their training and field service departments.

You CHARGE the customer for training and for field service, and those
problems become profit centers! You promise the customer Total
Reliability, and sell at a higher price than any of the competition. You
dominate the market by letting the customer know that any "foreign"
equipment that is being used has to be disconnected in order to evaluate
the problems, and by supplying equipment in place of any of the
"foreign" stuff.

That particular company has since gotten away from the domination model,
or so I have heard, but I think that some of old Tom Watson's ideas
still work.

But I think your client doesn't have the guts to run a FUD campaign or
to sell a take-it-or-leave-it product, and instead is pushing the
problem (or what they perceive to be the problem) into the Tech Writing
area, namely you. They don't even have the guts to put BOLD WARNINGS on
everything.

So here's what you do instead...

Tell them to add a single step to the installation dialog. It'll ask the
user, "Have you actually read the installation manual?"

The user will answer yes or no, and the question will come up again,
perhaps phrased slightly differently. The /actual/ answer to the
question, the one that is required to get to the next step of the
installation, will be contained somewhere in the documents, and it will
require a bit of thought, and will not be the same every time. (That'll
prevent cheat-sheet approaches.) An example: "Add the current day of the
month to the square of the number of characters in the previous
sentence. Multiply by three and add the unit's serial number."

They can also offer the customer the option of having a Field Service
rep coming (at a cost of $300/hour plus expenses) and doing the
installation. I can be the FS Rep if they need one. My expenses are very
high.


The Documentation Doctor (Martin) wrote:
> Hi folks
>
> I'm hoping I can tap your collective wisdom.
>
> A client has the common problem that users don't read the installation
> manuals.
>
> Historically, the response has been to beef up the installation manuals with
> big warning boxes highlighting the importance of particular steps; so much
> so that the warnings duplicate about 30% of the procedure. In addition, to
> make the manuals more friendly, each and every dialogue box and message is
> documented and illustrated. Even so, users still tend to skim, skip steps
> and get into a mess.
>
> My contention is that users are more likely to read documentation that is
> terse and does not contain redundant information, and that a single "Follow
> the steps or suffer the consequences" warning will suffice.
>
> So, what I'd be grateful for would be links to any studies that I could cite
> in order to support (or invalidate!) my position.
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References:
Studies relating to documentation density and getting the user to read the manuals: From: The Documentation Doctor

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