Re: Are manuals and help read?

Subject: Re: Are manuals and help read?
From: Fred Wersan <wersan -at- ZEUS -dot- MA30 -dot- BULL -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 17 Mar 1994 10:09:31 EST

Following on Bonnie and Karla's comments:

The issue of why people do or do not read manuals is probably more complex
than simply laziness or past experiences with poor manuals. Part of it, I
think, is that people prefer to learn from other people. That's why we try to
write as if we are talking to the reader rather then a disembodied user. We
try to recreate the sense of personal contact. So, given the option, many
people, other writers included, would rather ask a co-worker how to do something
than look in the manual or on-line help.

Other behaviors are harder to fathom. On one of my current projects, a tester
put a problem in the log saying that a document I wrote was unclear. He
read the first sentence of a paragraph to cite the fact that users might not
understand the ramification of a reference. Apparently he did not read the
second sentence, which explained the ramifications of the reference. I'm not
sure how much further I can reduce things than two consecutive sentences. I
suspect this is not an isolated reading behavior.

So, while I share Bonnie's annoyance at Andreas's comment, I too fall victim
to the cynicism that prompts such comments. We just need to keep plugging
away trying to improve our stuff.

On a lighter, but related, note, a couple of years ago I was playing around
with musical error messages. Here's a chorus to one: (Tune: Battle Hymn of the

Next time try to read the manual,
It gets revised semi-annual,
We work our fingers to the bone,
So read the book, leave us alone,
Cause we ain't gonna take it any more.
(smiley face goes here)

Fred Wersan
Quest Engineering Solutions
Documentation Services
300 Concord Rd.
Billerica, Mass. 01821
f -dot- wersan -at- bull -dot- com

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