Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Manual interpretation

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.

1 comment:

Liza said...

People no longer read: they want to watch a video. People with limited vocabulary skills are unable to put words into actions, so even the video has to be "dumbed down" to the lowest level possible, including cute music and pretty people.

This is another reason I retired!