My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Lessons in Manual Writing (and Supplying!)

This is a rant…I apologise for this coming so early on in the life of this blog (hope I don’t put you off ;)), but I have been fuming about this issue for quite a while now!

Since our department is still quite new, we are continuously buying new equipment, which of course we need to figure out how to use. Now, since I am the one needing some of this equipment first, this means that it falls to me to figure out how these instruments function. Easy task right? Just follow the instructions!

That’s what I thought too! But the situation is not always as easy as it seems. Why?…

Well…first of all I think that some of these companies need to learn a bit about manual writing. Even a simple thing, like how to switch an instrument off, is often missed out! Some of them are quite straight forward (though that is not a sufficient excuse according to me…what if the person who should be using isn’t the brightest in the world, or just simply cannot figure it out at the moment? Shouldn’t that be included?), but in other cases, the switching off procedure requires you to press a combination of buttons, or depress the same button for at least 5 seconds, or something like that…not everything is exactly intuitive. They should also understand that the people using the instrument are new to the instrument…they may not understand the jargon you include, or cannot do the assumption leaps you do! (This is especially the case when for some reason the pictures/text described in the manual is different from what is happening in your instrument, or, worse, when pressing the buttons directed in the manual give you a totally different result to what you expect [worse off is if the button options are all scrambled up throughout the manual, so it’s not like one combination has been switched with just one other! Believe me…I have a manual like that right now…it took me some time to figure out what is what!]).

Ahhh! And once you write them? Send them to the people buying the instrument! Or at least make them available to your customers and tell them how to find them! I am sick and tired of getting exasperated at figuring out an instrument, only to e-mail the company, which replies saying…this is the manual you need…so why didn’t they send it immediately with the instrument like they sent I don’t know how many instruments? 

Worse off however was one company which send us an instrument, which I was trying to connect to my computer (it should have had the capabilities!). One problem…we were supplied with around 5 software applications on the CD…which one to use?…Well, most of the applications had at most a 1-2 page colourful description of what they should do (if anything), which was more advert than help! I installed all applications…still couldn’t figure it out. Hmm…at my wits end I decided to call the company

Call 1: I am told that they sent us an old version of the CD (We bought it end of 2008, and the new version of the application came out in 2007!). OK…I could download the new version on-line. I download the new version, but still nothing happens!

Call 2: I am told that the new version does not necessarily work on Vista…but I have Vista installed! OK, one of the research assistants has XP, so I try it on hers…still nothing! The computer doesn’t seem to be able to recognise the instrument.

I leave some time pass…

By this time I was highly frustrated, and I didn’t want to disconnect before they told me exactly what  I had to do…I was a girl on a mission! I wanted to get this instrument and the computer to communicate! It was essential that they do! (otherwise this would have meant me jotting down over 15,000 values by hand!!! Not a pleasurable task!

Call 3: A new person answers…as soon as I start explaining, he said: I know what your problem is, give me your e-mail address, and I will send you the instructions! WOW…OK…I gave him my e-mail and 5 minutes later I had the instruction sheet in my inbox.

I arrange the settings to the new settings…and…

  • drum roll*

It worked! They connected! They recognised each other! WOW!

What I didn’t understand was why they didn’t supply that sheet with the instrument itself, since evidently it is something they know about (if you talk to the right person). Not having it meant that I spent I don’t know how many hours trying. Do these people enjoy making life for others more difficult?

Oh well…I will shut up now, and go back to my happier self.

But really…people…write decent manuals and supply them to your customers!

Filed under: Experiments and Methodology, Rants, Complaints and General Malaise, , , , , , , , , ,

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