Will People Ever Read Manuals? What Would Help?

By Darlene Simpson
Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - 12:05pm

The Majority of People Dislike Reading a Physical Manual
When someone earns an instructional design degree, he knows that designing a manual is an art and a science. It requires substantial knowledge in technical writing and communications with a dash of interpersonal skills. There are many different types of manuals for many different types of audiences. A quantitative study says that people are four times likely to ask other people for help or solve the problem without help than read a physical manual. People are twice as likely to give up and three times likely to use online methods for assistance before they read a manual.

It seems that the majority of people dislike physical documentation because it is “hard to handle,” and it is “cumbersome and bulky.” The next two reasons why people dislike using physical manuals is because they are hard to navigate and they are too basic to be useful.

Digital vs. Physical Manuals
With Internet use growing every day, more and more people are flocking to the Internet to find information that they need. While some people prefer physical reading material, the Internet is viewed like as an oracle of answers to questions. A physical manual lacks clarity and flexibility in contrast to Internet digital media. For example, whenever something specific goes wrong with a computer, the first place a person would look is online if he can. As a result, an instructional design degree course programs are completely revamped to reflect modern trends in digital media instructional design and physical media.

A physical manual is too basic and does not address the varied audience that it reaches. The majority of physical manuals that come with consumer products are so bulky from the variety of languages it is written in and the ADA accommodations that a physical manual is hard to navigate and lacks detail in troubleshooting options. Most physical manuals are basic quick-start guides which many people may be familiar.  

Things That Help People Want to Read a Manual
If it is not possible to include comprehensive and useful information in a physical manual, there should be an online reference pointing to a manual that is more in-depth and comprehensive. Here are some basic guidelines that a technical writer learns from an instructional design degree program
·         Assume the audience knows nothing about the subject matter.
·         Designing an objective layout can address many issues such as information overload and confusing details.
·         It needs to be straightforward but detailed enough to cover as many angles as possible.
·         A high-level outline should be created to create a logical and defined structure of steps to take.
·         A table of contents should be created for easy-to-locate sections.
·         Keeping the instructions brief and to the point can reduce confusion and enhance readability.
·        Using visual aids such as diagrams and screenshots can make the manual easy to understand.
·         Keeping the formatting consistent will keep the reader from getting eyestrain.
·         Avoiding big paragraphs.