Re: Humor in Manuals

Subject: Re: Humor in Manuals
From: Bonni Graham <bonnig -at- IX -dot- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 23 May 1996 10:03:01 -0700

Considering one of the things I do for cash and yuks in my spare time is be funny
on stage, I was going to stay out of this, as I am somewhat biased, but...

Scot wrote:
>>(quoting someone else)An early Juki daisywheel printer manual, done
>>by a California firm, had superb one-frame cartoons in the margins of
>>some of the pages. They were well drawn, tasteful, and funny. I don't
>>remember the tone of the text itself, but I do remember that it was a
>>complete technical programming and operation manual.
<snip>
>... But the only thing you remember about it that it was _FUNNY_. What about
>the printer's operational details (the important bit)? You admit you don't
>remember the text! What sort of _manual_ is that?

Well, no, the person you're quoting says he doesn't remember the TONE of the
text, which is different from not remembering the text. Besides, will everyone
on the list who routinely remembers "complete technical programming and
operation" details about every printer (or any printer, for that matter) please
raise their hands? MMM-HM, I thought so. I don't know about the rest of you, but
I haven't seen a daisy wheel printer for about seven years -- and I don't
remember technical programming information about the printer I have NOW. (I can
point to MANY soberly-written texts that I no longer recall, as well, and these
were things I was inherently interested in, not just things I need to know to
operate equipment in my house or for my job.)

What I remember about my current printer's manual is that is has clean, crisp
graphics that SHOW me what I need to see, and mostly has the details I need to
solve problems, and communicates all of this clearly. It also has an index where
I can look up what I need to so I don't need to retain it. If it also had humor
(or a "lighthearted tone" as Eric calls it more accurately), I would be even more
likely to go look something up, for the same reason that I'll ask the cheerul
co-worker for help instead of the grump.

I think you can safely use a less bludgeoningly formal tone, even in corporate
manuals, and not run the risk of people not remembering information. People
retain what they need to do their jobs. I don't think humor or lightheartedness
gets in the way of that, except when carried to extreme.

Since I'm not sure, however, I'll add questions about this topic to my
questionnaire for my next user study and report back to the list. After all,
it's not what WE like in a book/help file that's important, but what our USERS
like, isn't it?
--
Bonni Graham
Manual Labour
bonnig -at- ix -dot- netcom -dot- com
San Diego, CA

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