Saturday, September 02, 2006

How to get users to RTFM

How to get users to read the manual ...

"The "F" in RTFM is the biggest clue that most of us blame the user for not reading the manual. But if "reducing guilt is the killer app", companies should take more responsibility for whether readers use their manuals. And since we can't force our users to do anything, if we want them to RTFM, we need to make a better FM.

... In no particular order, a few tips on making a better FM:

Make Reading the Manual Unnecessary
In theory, "If your product is good enough, they shouldn't need a manual." In practice, that's a meaningless sentence without context. If your car radio does need a manual (oh, how I hate that mine does), blame the designers. But if your pro video editing software doesn't, then it's probably not a "pro" app. A complex product that needs a manual does not necessarily mean there's a design flaw.

If you are lucky enough to be in a position to influence a product's design, then of course you'll try to reduce the need for a manual. All the standard usability, information architecture, and user experience advice applies here (e.g. make the product intuitive, make the right things easy and the wrong things hard (to do), rely on what Don Norman refers to as "knowledge in the world" rather than "knowledge in the head", whenever possible (more on that in a minute), follow sound user interface guidelines (burn Steve Krug's ideas into your DNA), etc.)

And if are a product developer, please, PLEASE kick the crap out of anyone on the team who utters the phrase all tech writers fear and hate , "We'll fix that in documentation" -- a phrase that actually means, "We f'd up, but the tech writers will make up for our mistakes by putting a bunch of extra stuff in the manual to deal with it."

But... I wrote this post because most of us don't have the luxury of modifying (let alone designing from scratch) the products we want to help people use, so the rest of this assumes that you're pretty much stuck with what you've got.

Separate Reference from Learning
A good manual for a complex product should usually include at least FIVE distinct sections: Reference Guide, Tutorial, Learning/Understanding, Cookbook/Recipe, and Start Here. The single biggest problem with most bad less than stellar manuals is that they're usually only reference. But even with the best index on the planet, a reference guide suffers from one huge mother-of-an-assumption: that the user knows exactly what to look up!"   (Continued via Creating Passionate Users)   [Usability Resources]

More Understanding, Less Memorizing - Usability, User Interface Design

More Understanding, Less Memorizing


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