Author Avatar Web Disasters VI – Manuals

by Webnme2 on Mar 20th 2010


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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