Sunday, October 29, 2006


On shift, we have various manuals which should explain the responsible persons what to do on shift. They should be easily readable, should be logical and should enable somebody new to the business to do the necessary tasks. Unfortunately they don't. They are very good examples on how not to write manuals. (With some notable exceptions, but unfortunately the hardware they describe isn't in use any more.)

These manuals have no clear typography. There is random usage of list, enumerated lists, bold and cursive printing. Stuff is not described in chronological order: quite often you find "do A after you have done B". This is bad. Better written would be "Do B. Then do A."

Tables and images are referred, but not shown, or in different sections than noted. No images of the hardware or the user-interface of the software. Everything is randomly ordered, no clear sections where to find stuff (software or hardware), no explanation what it does and what it does not, no differentiation between trouble-shoot sections and normal operation. To get from step one to step two you have to fight through a lot of words, which you don't need to read as long as it is working as it should.

Most of them were written by people who don't speak English as a first language. They want to sound professional, so they chose huge words. They used thesauruses to find elaborate words. The manuals are full of filling-words; if you would strip those, the manuals would be half as long and much more readable.

As a contrast, I read the manual for my DKW some time ago. It had very clear and precise steps, images, clear wording. Everything was ordered chronological, one step after the other. It stated at the beginning of each task the tools you need. After reading this manual I feel confident that I can do a complete overhaul of the engine. After reading the manuals on shift, I can't even tell what the thing the manual is about is doing or if it is working correctly.

1 comment:

phil said...

These are genuine instructions from the good old days when we took videos of a rotating fork 24 hours/day. I think that the videos are still in the control room, and I guess they still have this exciting footage on them.

How to Change a Video

* Locate the video, top of rack G1,5

* Any shift crew less than 2m tall may wish to stand on the support.

* Open the front panel of the video

* Press STOP. The button is on the right
of the front panel.

* Rewind to the start of the video. Anyone returning videos not rewound will be fined 1 Euro

* Eject video and remove. The eject button is to the left of the slot for the video.

* Insert the next video. Check that it is rewound. If not, find the person who should have rewound it and forcibly extract 1 Euro (or more if you feel like it) from them.

* Start recording. The rec button is on the left of the front panel.

* Close the front panel

* If, at the start of this procedure you were less than 2m tall, and if you
are now stood on a support, carefully climb down again.