Re: to dialog or not to dialog

Subject: Re: to dialog or not to dialog
From: scot <scot -at- HCI -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Thu, 4 Apr 1996 18:35:48 +1000

>Anyone who believes that users read operating systems manuals is
>practicing wishful thinking. I would put next fortnights salay on the
>line betting that over 75% of our users have never read the Windows or
>WFW manuals - and they do get them with their pcs. Have you ever taken
>a look at the manuals - they are as boring as ****. I probably wouldn't
>read them either. By the way we are a large organisation so I'm talking
>about a lot of users.

>PS they do read/reference some manuals but not an OS manual.

Colleen, very true, the only time I ever looked at the Windows manual was to
verify its content (so I could work out what I _didn't_ have to write). But
I would say that not reading manuals is a typical situation -- its very
likely the users will not read YOUR manual either. (what makes _your_ manual
so special over the one that Microsoft supplies?)

The only manuals for which I would make an exception for are those for big,
clunky, unweidly systems for which it is impossible try and fake your way
around (and thus I'd argue this is a fault of the system itself). Also,
they'll check reference manuals when they're trying to find out some
specific bit of info (such as 'what's that field for?, what values can it

In the most part, the manuals I have found that users like the most are
small, compact ones, or "quick'n'dirty" books that might tell you the basic
steps in an unfamiliar procedure. Rarely users will consult a manual to find
out how a particular _control_ works - usually they'll just -- try it and
see for themselves -- , and this is the crux of the arguement. If a system
is implemented with standard Windows controls, there is plenty of info that
tells the users how these work _already_ on their computer; if they won't
read that when told to (in my manual) there's a damn good chance they won't
be reading _my_ manual either.

The reason users don't read manuals? IMHO its because in the past they found
the (bad) manuals to be of no help ***. After a while they'll read good
manuals and learn that they DO help, and learn to start reading them. Buts
it's a feedback loop that's hard to break.

ciao, scot

*** or, 'they don't have enough time to read them' -- a client company once
usability tested its product with their audience -- traders in the very high
pressure foreign exchange market -- and the traders would flatly tell the
testers "we don't have enough time to spend five minutes reading the manual"
and then spend TEN minutes thrashing around the program trying to locate
functions by trial-and-error (!). One even accidentally pressed F1 and got
the online help up -- instant reflex was to hit ESCAPE repeatedly in order
to make it go away (was familiar with an old DOS product). In my experience,
this is a very typical attitude even among users who know what online help
is! Hell, we even have this very attitude in our office -- and we're a
specialised doco consultancy so we should know better. Some people (hey, in
marketing OK?) here will come and ask the 'expert user' (that's me) to find
their lost file for them (... etc ..), even AFTER I have repeatedly told
them the information they need is supplied in the online help and/or the
manuals on the bookshelf (the person who does this is the same person who
always complains he 'doesn't have enough time' to go on a training course,
unfortunately as he's a partner, no-one can force him -- for those who know
us this is NOT Phil ;-) ).
#include HCI Consulting, Sydney, AU
#include std.disclaimer.

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