Fellow technical writers may be interested to read this piece in the Daily Mail.

In a thinly-veiled advertisement for a tech support helpline, the report claims that 26 per cent of people have their Christmas Day fun ruined by complicated instruction manuals.

I don’t mean to take this festive survey too seriously – especially given the sources involved. But can it really be the case that technical writing causes still causes problems for users?

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who purchased an iPad 2, Android tablet or smartphone and struggled to understand the user guide. Manuals are very rarely read, and certainly not from cover-to-cover. Almost definitely not on Christmas Day. Most users either read a ‘Quick Start’ manual or dive straight in and look for help later: this is even more likely since manuals are often only included in electronic formats.

Besides this, technical writing is improving all the time. Most of the gadgets we buy are no longer supported by poorly translated manuals full of vague instructions and complicated diagrams. In fact, the paperwork included with Apple products (for example) is minimal: the expectation is that the products are easy enough to use without one, and much of the help we need is conveyed in new ways: with screencasts for example.

In your experience, what makes a user guide easy to understand?

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Claire Broadley

Technical writer, blogger, and editor at Red Robot Media
Claire Broadley has been a technical author and web content writer at Red Robot since 2010. She contributes to dozens of websites, focusing on consumer technology, online privacy, digital marketing, and small business topics.
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