Readers who don't read

Subject: Readers who don't read
From: "Eric J. Ray" <ejray -at- OKWAY -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU>
Date: Thu, 1 Apr 1993 16:30:15 CST

I have been running into quite a few extremely
frustrating users in the past few weeks and I am
looking for some advice, condolences, or suggestions.

This is a little long, but please bear with me.

As most of the people who use our User's Manual Modules
are novices, I include quite a bit of metadiscourse
about how the manual works. For example, in a ULTRIX
module I recently finished, I included the following
verbage right at the beginning of the mail section and
again in the general information section at the
beginning of the whole manual:

> Mail commands are entered from the Message (MSG)
> prompt (< ). When you enter a MSG command, you will
> only need to type the first letter of the command.MSG
> recognizes and completes the command. You must press
> <ENTER> after each command.
... (2 lines)
> Enter the command in the format
> shown by these examples:
> A(nswer) 3 will allow you to answer message 3.
> D(elete) 2,5 will delete messages 2 and 5.

The system automagically finishes typing what you start
(with "nwser" or "elete").

I'll bet that I have had at least three upset, stuck,
and confused users who have not only typed the full
word (and generated a full screen of confusing error
messages) but have also typed the "()" that I included
to set off what they wouldn't type. BTW, the error
messages start flashing on the screen immediately and
don't wait for anything. If you type "an" you will get
one error message before you can type anything else.

Does anyone have an idea what to do about this? They
don't read what I give them, but they follow all
examples like lemmings heading for the sea. I
considered just putting A or D in the manual, but I
don't think it is too good to surprise users with
unexpected sustem responses.

What do you do in similiar cases? Or, in a broader
sense, how do you get users to read the information
about manual conventions?

Unfortunately, this isn't an April fool's joke, even to
the part about typing "D(elete)".

ejray -at- okway -dot- okstate -dot- edu

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