Author Avatar Web Disasters VI – Manuals

by Webnme2 on Mar 20th 2010

ONLINE PRODUCT MANUALS

We are moving to paperless offices and homes and that means we need reliable product manuals from vendor websites with useful information in a format that we can read, see, and understand.

You Gotta Be Kidding Right?

1. Where’s the manual? No manual? Oh oh.

This has to be the worst sin for a vendor site. If you sell, support it. At least have the manual online.

2. Get Out The Magnifying Glass!!

Who drew this micro-diagram where I can’t tell what’s what? Why is everything labeled “a”, “b”, and “c” without a legend? We probably have all been dumbfounded by do it yourself manuals and “some assembly required” products where the diagram looks more like a hieroglyph than anything remotely useful. Do better. Have step by step instructions. Don’t leave out steps and assume that we will guess what you did next. Use pictures – lots of pictures. We need to see what you are doing. Make them big enough to see and understand.

3. Don’t Oversimplify!!

A two page manual with a page and a half of disclaimers and four lines of text is not a manual. It is a joke. Where’s the beef? Give useful information upfront. If you don’t know how it works well enough to write a manual, well maybe you shouldn’t be selling it.

4. PDFs!

Wow isn’t it easy to scan a paper manual into a nice PDF file and just whip that up on the web??? Sure is. But let’s suppose I’m trying to read it from a web browser on a PDA? Not so good. Suppose I’m visually impaired and am using a screen reader program? Useless. Screen readers do not read pictures. And scans of pages are usually done as guess what? Pictures! Doesn’t work. If you are going to do a PDF, do it right so that it is accessible to the visually impaired or make it a total html production that is easier to navigate.
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5. Really Lazy!

Some sites have a link to a product manual that brings up an image of a page with a link to go to the next. Same deal. Make it accessible and adaptable to more user agents than a computer monitor. Do it right and your customers will thank you . . . or at least won’t pester your help folks as much.

About Webnme2

The author's first experience with computers was with Fortran IV. Wow that's ancient. After graduate school, he taught history for a number of years at a community college before becoming an attorney. In 1997 he changed careers to become a web developer/designer with an interest in all things web related. He currently maintains several dozen websites. This is his personal blog. The opinions expressed are his own.

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