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User Manual

One of the most common myths about technical documentation is that nobody reads it. Let’s talk about this myth and four big reasons why you shouldn’t believe it.

Most of us can’t honestly say that we learned how to use a television or computer by studying a reference manual. And the Internet — that didn’t come with a user manual, either. So it’s worth asking: who actually reads user manuals?

First, let’s suppose that computer software or hardware ideally ought to be so well designed that users do not need to consult the online help or printed manuals.

This is not an argument for laying off technical writers, but for involving them earlier in the design process whenever possible as advocates for an excellent user experience. Too often technical writers are only hired after software design is done, so that they have less of an opportunity to improve the products.

It is also worth pointing out that reality falls well short of this ideal, especially when dealing with new and innovative products. As much as we would wish it, technology products are rarely self-documenting. They may seem that way to their designers and developers, but only because over familiarity produces a sort of spell on them.

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I’m a big fan of the blog I’d Rather Be Writing. Written by Tom Johnson from San Jose, the blog is an invaluable resource for technical writers as well as an inspiration for blog writers. Not only does the author explore technical writing trends, he also gives away an entire course worth of information on sought-after training topics.

If you haven’t encountered Tom’s blog yet, do yourself a favor and head on over. There’s too much content on the site to cover exhaustively (he has been blogging regularly for over a decade), but here’s a short tour of a few major attractions.

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