I have a Haynes manual for my Honda motorcycle, it is the next best thing to useless. The carburators in the manual are nothing like the ones on my bike and many of the instructions are only partially of use, in many instances, you had better know something about engines to begin with or these sloppy manuals are just going to get you into trouble. This manual claims to be for all of the models of this particular bike but it isn't. I can't tell if it is or isn't suitable to any of the bike's model years, it certainly misses a lot of the bases on my bike.
Not much else more useless than a poorly written service manual. I've also ran into this problem in electronics where a given manual tries to cover too many production years and ends up being nothing less than a mess. Outside of minor changes, a new manual should be produced for a models with significant changes, that would be easier than trying to write a universal manual and mucking things up.
I suppose every company has issues with users' manuals or Use and Care Manuals as GE calls them. I retired from GE Appliances and project engineers were required to write the manuals, at least prior to 2005. They were then reviewed by our home economist for "sanity" then reviewed for grammar, sentence structure, punctuation etc. We were instructed to use pictures and / or drawings whenever possible in addition to text. This was for clarity. We were also instructed to write the instructions so a 5th grader could understand, in other words—no big words. I agree completely with previous comments in that a good manual is extremely important to a product. Unfortunately, literature and packaging seem to be afterthoughts with most products today--especially consumer products. Excellent post Roger.
Cabe, at more than one place where I worked the manuals were written by a technical writer who was not an engineer. so the good writers asked the engineers for assistance and clarifications. The worse writers produced volumes of fiction. And writing diagnostic processes that are useful requires a good understsnding of how a system works, and in addition a great understanding of what results failures produce. But I don't think a lot of managers have a clue about what good technical writing is, or how valuable it can be.
I have to agree. I got started EXTREMELY early in my engineering career in user documentation. I was a 17-year old freshman at MIT, and I got an on-campus job with the dining service for my dorm. As the "low man on the totem pole" I was assigned the least-desirable position: last shift running and cleaning the huge industrial dishwasher (conveyor-blt style). There was no documenation available; I was shown the procedures by the previous holder of that job. I mastered it in a week or two. Then and there I decided I needed to write up all the procedures if I ever wanted to move up! I wrote "The care and feeding of the Beast" in excruciating detail, outlining every step and hints on how to handle problems (like clogged spray pipes). As far as I know that manual was used for several generations of student workers there. Soon after I got "promoted" to a better slot, eventually ending up as the weekend grill cook and a "date night" waiter. I've been a fanatic about proper documentation for process and procedure ever since!
Just a couple of days ago, I had an experience that shows how bad things have gotten. I had purchased some very expensive German bathroom faucets, and had them installed by a "pro" because i couldn't get the old ones out (corrosion of the threads....). A couple of months later, I noticed the spout assembly of one was loose and getting looser. After looking through the installation booklet, I couldn't figure out where to tighten the spout mounting, and tried all of the "tighten this, tighten that" steps of the manual with no improvement. Yesterday, I called the manufacturer's tech support number; as soon as I described the problem, the tech told me there was a tiny 2mm set screw near the rear base. There was no mention of this in the manual, only an exploded view that showed something small on the spout assembly, but no label on the callout, and no parts list. When I got home, I scrounged through my vast collection of hex keys and found a 2mm one. I had to remove the plunger control to even see the set screw hole, as it was totally covered by the rod. 30 seconds later, all was well again! I could have fixed it much more quickly, with no wasted effort (trying to tighten from inside the base cabinet working from below) with a tiny bit more info in the manual, weeks earlier!
@ Gorski, nothing could be more frustrating than trying to repair using a repair manual and failing to do so. It is not just about frustration. It has much more to do with company's reputation as well. A useful manual with clear diagrams, made by engineers or people properly skilled for the job, can be really handy in performing common repair operations.
Good user manuals are like having a remote control to your vehicle. Put aside the possibilities of repairing, you will still find good user manuals handy. Often times we don't get to know, and use consequently, all the features in the vehicle just because we don't have a useful user manual in our hands describing everything about the vehicle.
My expeience with Chrysler service manuals is that sometimes they show a view from a point that no human could ever have, such as looking at an engine through the firewall just above the steering column. That was an interesting one. And removing the front fender was indeed required on some of their products. Evidently the blower motor was not intended to ever be replaced.
The worst ever technical writing was done by a chap at a company that I worked for a while back. He had written a calibration procedure for a circuit that I had designed, and it was so confusing that I couldn't follow it. I discovered this when I got a paniced call from our field service person telling me that he couldn't get the procedure to work. I had to clear my head for a few minutes, pull out the drawing, and write a better procedure, and then fax it to the poor chap. He used my instructions for a succesful calibration, and then we had the revised instructions typed up and sent to that customer as an update for their manual on the machine. And I decided that I had to have the final say on service manuals after that.
It did sort of start my technical writing portion of my engineering career.
Assumming the writer can effectively understand what the engineer is trying to communicate. Some of the best manuals are the ones with assembly diagrams and exploded views. Sometimes a picture is a thousand times better than paragraphs of eloquent descriptions.
Charles, oftentimes even experienced engineers create poor manuals.
A professional technical writer is quite valuable to a company if they can afford the position. They translate what the engineer tries to communicate into something the average user can, most of the time, understand.
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