Some Assembly Required - A CSA Guide to Writing Instruction Manuals
Remember the last time you spent three hours of frustration trying to assemble your child's bicycle? You know, the one that the kid next door finally had to put together for you! Or how about the digital clock that constantly flashes 12:00 because you lost the instructions and can't figure out the senseless sequence of buttons that must be pushed to set the time? You are not alone!
In a series of consumer surveys conducted by the Canadian Standards Asso ciation in 1993, only 49% of typical consumers and 41% of more expert consumer representatives rated instruction manuals as generally adequate. The most frequent cited deficiencies were related to overall readability, layout, and completeness. Manuals accompanying electronic home entertainment products, major appliances, and children's toys were most often deemed inadequate. The recommendations from these surveys, covering such diverse topics as the use of plain language, more diagrams, and better translations, the use of non-expert readability review panels, and detailed troubleshooting sections, have been incorporated into this Guide, along with similar recommendations in various other publications. About this manual... In this Guide, we have tried to walk the fine line between excessive generalization and excessive detail. At the one extreme, we would risk being so broad as to appear irrelevant to your specific needs, while at the other we would risk writing a manual that is too long, too boring, and relevant only to that narrow range of products specifically cited in our examples. We have chosen instead to follow the lead of one of the great gourmet cookbooks: outline principles, explain goals, define ingr edients - but encourage the individual chef to modify the basic recipe, using local ingredients and methods to create a unique masterpiece! We have deliberately avoided setting forth a lot of rules and specifications. Not only is it impossible to provide a rule to cover every situation but to do so would intrude upon your right to design a manual that fits your corporate image and the market niche that you envisage for the product. In this Guide, we try to practice what we preach: brevity, clarity, simplicity, and usability. The Guide itself is designed to serve as a template for the typical instruction manual in its own writing and layout. We even provide you - our consumer - with a tear-out comment card to return to us if you find some aspect of our manual to be less helpful or less clear than we intended. Why worry about instruction manuals? A poorly written instruction manual is likely to undermine consumer confidence in the overall quality of your products. A bad experience in attempting to assemble or use one of your products may convince the wary consumer to switch to another brand or to badmouth your product to friends. In addition, improper assembly or use may result in poor product performance or premature failure, which in turn may lead to increased costs to you, because of repairs or replacements covered by warranty. Not only does the writing of the instruction manual as part of overall product development improve the quality of the manual, it may improve the product itself. If the instructions seem too complex, if the safety warnings occupy five pages, or if the troubleshooting guide is the longest part of the manual, perhaps you need to redesign your product! In this Guide, we explain the steps to producing a useful, user- friendly instruction manual. Written in the same simple, easy- to-follow format that we recommend for all instruction manuals, this Guide explains the goals of each step, sets out simple rules for success, and provides concrete examples that make sense.