Someone complained to me yesterday about users’ inability to read a manual and understand how to operate a new website. This same person barely skimmed the manuals provided to them on a different topic and required hand-holding through the process. This is a constant issue for me; having to hand-hold users through a process that I’ve already provided a step-by-step manual for. I am debating whether to ever write a manual again, given that it seems to be a waste of my time. I’ve written manuals with and without the help of a technical writer, but neither makes a difference.
I’m struggling to understand what the real problem is. I know that learning styles are different, and that not everyone can learn and understand from text, but that’s why I include pictures. Do I need to make YouTube videos for all new procedures? Have we regressed to the point where everything must be a video clip that will hold someone’s attention?
When faced with an unfamiliar process, I sit down and read the manual slowly. I try to eliminate distractions, physically turn away from my computer, highlight relevant sections, and make notes. With a conscious effort, I can learn what the text is presenting to me, even if it is a dry topic. Why am I different than most everyone else I deal with regularly? Am I really the only person around who learns through reading? Some days it certainly feels like it.
One reason could be a true literacy issue. They simply don’t know how to read multiple types of documents. A comic book or fiction novel isn’t intimidating, but this manual on a new website looks complicated and I don’t know what to do. That’s why I usually include screen shots, so there is a combination of visual aids and text. I’m often asked to provide a “one-pager” on how to do something, but we now have so many one-pagers that I don’t know how anyone could keep them all straight.
Maybe they’re just simply lazy. Since they don’t have time to go through a 20 page manual in detail, it will be faster to just call and have someone do it for them. After the 5th person who calls me, I can attest to the fact that it may be faster for you, but it is not faster *for me*. I’ve now wasted at least 30 minutes on the phone in addition to the hours I’ve spent plugging away at writing what I think is a good manual for my audience.
At what point do I refuse to hand-hold anymore? I have a job to do, too. The next person who asks me to walk them through a process because they don’t have time to read the manual may get a big earful. Or I may walk them down to a meeting room with the document, shut the door, and tell them not to come out until they understand it.