Sometimes we need a bit of help from the manual but what if, in addition to failing to understand the technology, we have trouble understanding the instructions as well? It would be nice to be able to get the best from our gadgets.
This year’s hobby horse seems to be documentation again. Have you ever wondered why so many people either fail to fully exploit their technology or spend excessive amounts of time trying to find support from user forums? Here’s an example of how I am going to put the world to rights this year.
For Christmas I was given a USB adapter that allows me to plug my electric guitar into my PC so that not only can I use the PC sound system to play through but I also have the opportunity to record multi-track music direct to my hard drive, a most impressive piece of kit but not the easiest thing to configure.
The manual was well written in real English, not just badly translated from Cantonese, which was a great bonus. However, sadly it was written to a more technical level than I am used to. For one thing, it went on at great length about latency. What was much harder for a relatively nontechnical musician such as myself was finding a definition of latency and how to deal with it.
Finally, I discovered that the constant reverberation I was experiencing was latency, a by-product of the limited capability of my on-board sound card, and I resolved to recover my old sound card, which was in my old PC under the bench until I loaned it to a friend just a week or two ago! He is planning to get a better card, and when he returns it, I will fit it.
My gripe isn’t with the product but with the documentation that has been produced. It wasn't compiled by a writer but seemingly by someone who was very involved in the technical side of the product and rather less concerned with the human side of it.
All technology suffers from this to a certain extent. I feel that there is a place for a nontechnical writer to get involved in producing good quality documentation that is geared toward the end user. Getting a writer who is not involved in the product to write the manual will avoid the pitfall that is so common with so many manuals, which is that they are written from the wrong starting point, namely from the viewpoint of somebody who is already au fait with the equipment and not someone who has never seen the equipment before.
Perhaps there is a career opportunity for a writer who can write but has an average level of technical skill, who could liaise with a manufacturer and put the awkward stuff into plain language.