One of the more brilliant technical works I have ever read was authored by Forrest Mims, but I’m not sure if there’s even a hand full of people that really know why they are such great works. My summary of his work? It’s like pouring knowledge out of a can. It’s rather dumb founding how clearly written his explanations are.
Forrest wrote a whole series of Electronic books for Radio Shack and many of us learned from him. Fact is, I keep a number of his books on my shelf as a quick reference. One book that really shows off Forrest’s talent to communicate clearly is a book called Understanding Digital Computers, Forrest designs a nibbler processor to teach the inter workings of a computer, and you walk away with a deeper understanding than most people will ever have.
But now I’ll tell you the secret, and if you are a developer of anything that needs instructions, it can put you light years ahead of others including your competition. Forrest was learning as he wrote! This allowed him to explain what he was doing in terms that a person just learning could understand, because he was just one step ahead of his audience.
I write this because the last few days, I have been pouring over the worst of the worst technical manual I have ever read. The instruction was written by a man that has done the work so many times, there’s no way he can really relate to the person who is doing it the first time. I found an account given by two geeks, (both engineers) who took a week to complete the same work, the Author calls it a 10 hour job, but I didn’t do any better than the two geeks.
The biggest mistake you’ll make is giving the job to document the assembly or the use of a product to the man who knows it best. If you want clear and concise instruction, you find someone who knows absolutely nothing about it.
I’ve been studying this process for 40 years or more, and I just think it must be counter intuitive for managers to grasp that they need the untrained to write the manual so the untrained can learn it best. Sure thing, they’ll struggle, but they will discover the majority of the potential misunderstandings in the first draft.
Next thing I’ll write about is a product that Marketing said needs no lubrication ever, but the lack of lubrication takes out the poorly designed controller that then takes out the motor. How could they get it so wrong? Well.. it happens after warranty so no big deal…. (for them).
All the best,