During one of my first days working at Kwantlen, I had to go work at the gift store because someone was sick. I said I’d go over there to work for a day, and the person I was talking to said, “You’ll be fine. There’s a manual. Just follow the manual.” Fine, I get the manual, and it shows you how to log on to the computer. I did the first step. But then the second step says, “Open the point of sale.”
I looked at the screen and there were all of these icons. I didn’t understand. None of the icons said ‘point of sale.’ So where’s the point of sale? That crucial step was missing. So, I couldn’t even get it open. If there was a visual that showed a picture of the icon, I could have opened it up. Because it just said ‘open the point of sale,’ I couldn’t even get past step 2.
It’s really important to bring someone in who’s not familiar at all with the topic and have them test your instructions. You have to think about how much your audience knows. Manuals need to be so simple that literally anyone can pick it up and follow the instructions. But often, we skip ahead and assume that the reader knows more than they do. That’s why we need to ask them and not make assumptions.