Nobody reads the manuals

Subject: Nobody reads the manuals
From: David Orr <dorr -at- ORRNET -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 22 Dec 1998 15:21:23 -0600

We have a usability lab and see certain patterns here.

1. About 15-20% of users look to the manual or on-line help first,
before doing anything on the system.. These are the best performers on
the system. Often they are women and technical types.
2. About 15 to 20% never look at the manual, and rarely at the online
help.
3. The rest go to the screen first, then to the manual or online help
when they get into trouble. They typically don't read for very long
before trying something on the system again.

Some qualifiers:

* Typically, users in a lab don't have co-workers to ask for peer
support. If they did, I'm sure many would.
* Some lab tests designs use a "support line" and others don't.
* The figures in 1-3 above are just estimates based on experience and
impressions over time.
* Users may be under more pressure to perform well because they know
people are watching them. As a result, some users will want to "figure
it out" themselves.

Programmer Analysts use manuals for information on the current version
of a product before creating new versions. Salespeople use manuals to
sell large systems. Their prospects often want to review manuals for
capability comparisons with competitors, or to see if the system can do
a specific thing. Auditors often use manuals to confirm the reliability
of data in a system. Training people often use manuals as a source for
creating training materials. Short people stack manuals up in their
chairs to...never mind!

David Orr
Orr & Associates/Usability Management

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