When you need to know how to do something, there are several ways to find out what to do and how to do it. You can read instructions, you can ask someone to explain it to you, or you can have someone show you how to do it. Each of these methods can be effective, and depending on your needs, each one may work for the specific task in mind. However, your mileage may vary, and often, the best method allows for a combination of instructional strategies.
Instruction Manuals: Don't Believe Everything You Read
Any one who has ever attempted a DIY project, whether baking a cake, assembling furniture, or installing a screen door, knows that the process and result are only as good as the provided directions. If the writer of the instructions misses a step or fails to adequately explain something, the whole project can end in disaster.
In fact poorly written instructions are so universally frustrating that Technical Standards, a specialized document staffing and technical writing company, has launched an annual Worst Manual Contest. Take a moment to reflect on these gems from the safety section of the 2004 award-winning air conditioner manual:
- " . . . to have the observance without fail to prevent the damage to harm and the property beforehand to the person who use this product and other persons."
- "Please do not put the one embarrassed because it gets wet under the air conditioner."
- "To apply the cold wind to the body for a longtime and so as to not exist about cooling too much . . . "
- "Do not blow the wind to animals and plants directly. It occasionally causes a bad influence for animals and platns to be exerted."
Say What? An Expert Explanation
Me: Um, okay. So I have this ethernet card. And the instructions tell me to insert it into the slot on the back of the computer. But, like, there's no slot?
Really Helpful Tech Guy: Yes, there is.
Me: No. Seriously. There's not.
Really Helpful Tech Guy: *audible sigh* There has to be.
Me: Okay. But there isn't. It's all metal back here.
Really Helpful Tech Guy: It must be covered by the metal. Do you have a screwdriver?
Really Helpful Tech Guy: Do you have. A screw. Driver.
Me: Um, I can get one, but there are no screws back here.
Really Helpful Tech Guy: What I want you to do is take the screwdriver use it to remove the metal to reveal the slot for the ethernet card.
Me: Okay. But there still aren't any screws. Are you telling me to take the screwdriver and pry the metal from the back of my computer?
Really Helpful Tech Guy: Yes.
Me: Like, actually break a chunk of metal off of my computer?
Really Helpful Tech Guy: Yes. (I'm pretty sure I could actually hear his eyes rolling).
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