Saturday, April 4, 2009

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RTFM! Or not.

Any regular denizen of discussion groups and help forums - especially of a technical nature or having anything to do with software apps etc, will be familiar with this statement.

RTFM! Read the F****** Manual.

Set of Logic Studio Manuals (Photo by Uninen)

Usually it's applied in the context of, why are you here asking this stupid question - haven't you even bothered to read the manual? Loser!

Unfortunately the people who respond in this fashion are the ones who are actually happy reading manuals and love theory. I'm one of these people, by the way. I enjoy reading manuals, and once felt a little of the same scorn towards those who didn't.

But lately, as I've discovered more about education and the way people learn, I've realised that most people struggle to read manuals - in fact there are probably a vast amount of people out there who are happily using software apps who struggle to read anything at all. To deny them support is to discriminate against those who are not on a similar educational or learning level to ourselves. It's elitism, and biased very strongly against newbies who are just starting out.

Do we expect them to read the manual before using the program? I would guess that the amount of people who do that are well in the minority - if they exist at all.

And lets not forget that manuals are not instruction booklets - they are usually dry and written by engineers, or at the least by someone who is so familiar with the program that they may find it hard to remember what it was like to know nothing about it.

It's easy to make assumptions about what the reader already knows, and most manuals alternate between ultra-simplistic first-timer statements like "Thank you for buying this product - this is the "on" button", then cut to hard technical data that only another engineer can decode. As an audio engineer of many years, I have hunted in vain through manuals for typical useful info, only to come away frustrated and annoyed. And occasionally entertained by poor translations, I'll admit.

Now all this isn't to say that we shouldn't recommend people read the manual, as there are people out there who haven't even considered that particular avenue, but we should continually remember that our own learning preferences are not the same as everyone elses, and it shouldn't be considered as a compulsory requirement - just another way to gain information.

Some people may prefer verbal communication, some watching a video of how something works, some might need all that dry information from a manual decoded and spelt out in an easier to understand and simple set of instructions.

Oh - lets ask an expert in a forum!