February 9, 2001
I realized a long time ago that some instruction manuals written for beginners are just fine when it comes to the literal "plug-it-in-turn-it-on" of a new whatever, but once you have it plugged in and turned on, you're left to decipher instructions that make you wonder if you've forgotten what words mean.
It's as though manufacturers have hired some writer who had an excess of literary symbols left over from some project, and told the writer to feel free to use the symbols in to fill up the pages of the manual. The only requirement is that the product name be mentioned at least once a chapter, and that anything the reader can make sense out of ("Machine won't work if power supply is missing") be true.
I'm actually fairly good at translating manuals. I have even been paid a few times to come teach someone how to use a new piece of office equipment---or more precisely, a piece they've owned several months but can't make work because they can't understand the manual.
Usually the clients feel stupid for not understanding what's obviously printed somewhere in the manual, and they're quick to assure me they have tried to read it. I always try to make sure the clients understand that neither their intelligence nor their diligence is in question, and that any expertise I have comes from being a stubborn person who likes to know what makes things work.
Because it's not their fault that yet another manual has been drenched in obscurity by someone who had half a novel left to write!
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