Re: No one reads the manuals

Subject: Re: No one reads the manuals
From: "Peter Ring, PRC" <prc -at- PRC -dot- DK>
Date: Wed, 23 Dec 1998 10:59:09 +1

Suzanne Gerrior wrote:

> "It must be very frustrating to be in a profession where no one reads what
> you produce."
> I have searched the archives and not found the type of info that I'm
> looking for. Can anyone tell me if they know "for a fact" that user's read
> the documentation (skimming is included as reading). By this I mean have
> you done a usability test, have you talked to customers. Does anyone have
> facts that I can use to back up my belief that user's do read the manuals.

According to my own research (which is well in accordance with other
sources I've seen) the situation is as follow:

Approx. 10% of the users will ALWAYS read the whole manual before
starting using the product.

IF the product is a complicated or risky-to-use one, where you can
expect to run into troubles if you haven't read then manual, further
approx. 10% of the users will read at least the manual major parts of
the manual before starting using the product. The more
complicated/risky the product is, the more readers you'll find in
this group.

The remaining approx. 80% of the users will only read in the manual
when they run into problems they can't solve without consulting the
manual. But before that, many of them will probably have tried
calling the help-desk if such one exists.

Please note, that even in countries where everybody goes many years
to school, approx 15..20% of the adult population can't read at all,
or can't read sentences longer than 3 short words.

Exception from these rules:
There are professions where reading the manual is mandatory before
doing anything with the product. These are the the very safety
oriented professions like professional airplane pilots.

So, the answer to you boss is: "For sure, somebody will read our
manuals, but you my dear boss is (like most techwriters, too) in the
80% group."

Greetings from Denmark

Peter Ring
PRC (Peter Ring Consultants)
- specialists in user friendly manuals.
prc -at- prc -dot- dk
- the "User Friendly Manuals" website with links, bibliography, list
of prof. associations, and tips for technical writers:
- text cleaning software, e.g. for reading difficult e-mails:

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