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: "Al Geist" <al -dot- geist -at- geistassociates -dot- com>
To: "'Dan Goldstein'" <DGoldstein -at- riverainmedical -dot- com>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2009 09:48:09 -0500

Users are more apt to read content that quickly answers their questions,
thus reducing downtime and subsequent pressure from their managers. However,
with that said, users will always blame the "documentation" when they (the
users) screw up something because they didn't read the documentation. It's
part of the business and in my near 40 years of writing, I have yet to see a
change in that arena. I always strive to put out the best documentation I
can under the circumstances I am forced to operate, and I always try to
improve existing documentation when I have the chance (not often). I also
use a lot of warnings, cautions, and notes in the procedures to make sure
that the user understands that if they do not perform this step they will
probably die. If someone blows up a robot, destroys a multi-million dollar
system, or croaks because they skimmed over the part that says to
lockout/tag out the system prior to servicing, and then blames their problem
on poor documentation, I can always point out that "I told you so."

I used to worry about all those warnings, but I realized that there are some
that just won't follow directions if their lives depended on it. They're the
ones that says the "docs suck" without taking them off the shelf.

Al Geist
Technical Communicator, Help, Web Design, Video, Photography
Office/Msg: 802-872-9190
Cell: 802-578-3964
E-mail: al -dot- geist -at- geistassociates -dot- com
Website: www.geistassociates.com
See Also:
Fine Art Photography
Website: www.geistarts.com

"...I walked to work, quit my job, and kept walking. Better to be a pilgrim
without a destination, I figured, than to cross the wrong threshold each
day." (Sy Safransky)

> -----Original Message-----
> From: The Documentation Doctor
> Sent: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 4:59 AM
> To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
> Subject: Studies relating to documentation density and
> getting the user to read the manuals
>
> 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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Follow-Ups:

References:
Studies relating to documentation density and getting the user to read the manuals: From: The Documentation Doctor
RE: Studies relating to documentation density and getting the user to read the manuals: From: Dan Goldstein

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