Why Users Don’t Read Your Manuals and How to Make Them To

Why Users Don’t Read Your Manuals and How to Make Them To

You’ve designed a near perfect product or built a great software. And then you hired some of the best technical writers to write a user-friendly help manual to solve usability problems. You want your product users to start enjoying the product from the first minute. The technical writers did a great a job, and your user experience team confirmed that.
But after launching your product or releasing an update, you seem to be spending a lot more on customer support. In many cases, the answers users are looking for are right inside the user manual. So now you’re asking the same question many manufacturers and developers have been asking. Do product users ever read help manuals?

5 Reasons Why Users Don’t Read Your Help Manuals

There are many reasons why some product users never read manuals, but for those who care to look at your manual, you can avoid mistakes that compel them not to read it.

1. Your help manual is published in the wrong format

One of the worst mistakes you can make is to design and publish your documentation without considering how your product users actually want it. Many manufacturers and developers instruct their technical writers exactly how they want their documentations to be. The writers write to match their expectations but neglect what the users want. The outcome of that is the amount you’ll spend on customer support.
If your product is a hardware like a washing machine or office equipment, publish a hard copy of your manual. Do not use a CD where a simple printed manual with easy-to-understand details and pictures will do. If your product is a software, an embedded help file will seem perfect. But how exactly can you determine the right format for your product? See the 7 best format to publish your help files.

2. Your help manual is absolutely boring

Your help manual doesn’t have to be boring. But if your technical writers try to impress you or your users by writing documentations that contain many technical jargon, you’ll end up with one very boring help file. Many of your product users will see your help manual as useless and a complete waste of time.
You can make your help manual user-friendly and interesting by using terms your product users are familiar with. Never use two words where one will do. Use images or even cartoons to explain complex tasks and consider making a short video to demonstrate how to use your product. Read more about the best practices in writing help documentation and manuals.

3. Your manual does not match user's operating system

If your product is a software that can run on multiple operating systems, chances are you’ll need more than one version of your help file. Sometimes, your technical writing team and end-users may have different operating systems. A simple task on Windows may require a different approach on Mac or Linux.
It’s even more complicated for some users if the operating system is the same but the versions are different. For instance, what works on Windows 7 may require a different procedure on Windows 10. If your documentation doesn’t match your user's operating system, they won’t waste one minute reading it.
You’ll have to create a distinct documentation for each operating system your software is compatible with. One easy way to do this is to use a help authoring tool like HelpNDoc. It can generate several different help file format from just one source, including CHM help files, Qt Help files and web-based documentations.

4. Product users underestimate the value of your help manual

Based on past experience, many product users have concluded that help manuals are very complex and difficult to understand. Regardless of the efforts your technical writers, design team and user experience team put into creating a great documentation, many users will underestimate the value of your help manual. They’ll prefer calling your customer support rather than reading the help file.
You can ask your customer support team to refer users to the exact pages or link where they can find answers to their questions if the task or procedure is a very simple one.

5. Differing technical abilities

Technical abilities from person to person are not the same. Many technical writers overestimate the technical abilities of users. Product users who can read and understand technical instructions easily are more likely to read your help files. Users with little or no knowledge of technical terms may prefer calling a colleague, friend or your customer support without reading the help manual.
Writing a great documentation for a wide audience with differing technical abilities is not the easiest of tasks. This is why you should test your documentations with some of your target audience before the product is launched. The time you’ll spend doing that is actually worth it, once you realize that writing a quality help manual is one of the best investment you can make.

The truth is, many product users actually looked at your help manual before dialing your customer support number. But some users will never read your manual, even if it contains just one sentence. That’s a fact you’ll have to live with. But you can use a help authoring tool to slash your customer support costs by creating a top notch help file that will encourage your product users to read the manual.