Documentation can be extremely costly... because it does not exist!
Sometimes documentation exists, … and still is costly because it is useless. Useless because it does not help the user reach his goal.
Let’s take the example of a medical handle. It shows two forms of ineffective information, both as text and as illustrations.
First, the text « Zur Reinigung des Griffes ist das Gurtband vollstaendig abzurollen » is ineffective because it doesn’t « enable the user to complete (and possibly learn) a task » (*)
The text message is useless because it does not speak the user’s language -in this case French-. Now, what is the French nurse going to do with these intructions? Did the nurse’s job profile specify « French nurses must speak German »?
On the other hand, the EU guidelines recommend to provide documentation in the user’s language and this in all EU countries.
Interestingly, the German version does not comply with the Best Practices for writing instructions since: « Zur Reinigung des Griffes ist das Gurtband vollstaendig abzurollen » is written in Passive Voice.
This is contrary to Krull’s (*) recommendation for designing action steps « Make the user the agent of actions by using the active voice »
In this case, one does not know who is performing the task ? the Parrot? The cat?
Will the illustration compensate this misinformation?
At first glance, nothing is less certain.
Illustrations are wordless … but will the end-users be able to understand these symbols?
What will YOU understand below the « TURN » button? Something like « Do not swing the upper arm of the device »? What ‘s the meaning of the yellow triangle? What does the red road sign want to tell us? Where is the difference ? This is the biggest problem with symbols: they are difficult to understand properly.
Because technical communicators tend to create icons without analysing the perception of these symbols by the end-users, we end up in a genuine mangrove of icons ready for misinterpretation!
How do you like the yellow triangle? Oh yes, it wants to draw our attention, on what? DANGER ? WARNING? CAUTION? ANSI Z.535 defines these three categories.
A 2003 study recommends « Warnings should be signaled with text and pictures… describe the hazard…describe the consequences of noncompliance… and instruct the user what to do or how to avoid the hazard »
Obviously, this piece of information -the yellow triangle-, does not bother complying with neither the standard nor the Best Practices rules.
Why do we produce tons of useless documentation? In 2016, should we continue to ignore Best Practices based on (academic) research? Or what about putting the USER at the center of our considerations, and not the product ?
Last but not least, not only is the above documentation useless, but it is costly: designing, printing, fixing means salary, hardware, software and other general costs. What for?
(*) Dr Hans van der Meij in « What makes up a Procedure »