The Joy of … Reading the Manual?

Naturally, I encourage people to read the manual; the more demand for manuals, the more demand for people who create them.

I try to practice what I preach. Reading the manual is a competitive advantage. Expose yourself to all the features of a new tool and you’re halfway to being a guru. It does my heart good to see my kids reading the manuals (which can be surprisingly complex) that come with their video games, and then buying after-market guides and looking for even more tips on the Web.

So manuals can be a source of information and, for some, employment. But… a source of happiness? Writing for the Huffington Post, Gretchen Rubin suggested some emotional and spiritual benefits:

I’m often frustrated by devices, and I have to go to great efforts not to let my irritation infect my mood. But … a big part of the problem is that I never take the time to read the manual! We recently had to replace our dishwasher, and I feel frustrated by its obscure buttons–but why haven’t I taken the time to read the directions? From now on, when I get a new gizmo of any kind, I’m going to push myself to read the instructions carefully. Why should I expect to operate something without learning anything about it?

But “reading the instruction manual” is also good advice on a metaphorical level. One of my happiness-project resolutions is to “Ask for help,” and I’m always struck by the fact that 1) I find this surprisingly difficult to do and 2) whenever I do ask for help, it’s hugely beneficial. Turns out that getting instructions makes things easier!

Rubin is not alone in her frustration. A 2008 study by Accenture found that consumer-electronics manufacturers spent over $25 billion in 2007 on assessing, repairing, repackaging, restocking and reselling returned merchandise. Faulty goods? No. Between 62-85% of returned products showed no detectable fault. The customers didn’t know how the products were supposed to work.

You can argue that the products are too complex or misleadingly advertised. You can say that some consumers are dishonest. You might even point out that a lot of the documentation out there is lousy. But clearly there’s a huge opportunity in that field to reduce business costs and increase customer satisfaction. I’m all in favor of making my readers happy!

Published by Steven Jong

I am a lifelong technical communicator, a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), a former STC board member, and chair of the first STC Certification Commission. I occasionally blog about these and other topics.

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