Blog June 2013 – Day 28 – The perils of basic assistance

With the recent addition of e-books to our library offerings, we have created some simplified instructions on how to download an e-book. Β We have created similar such sheets many times before, to help our library users to help themselves with various library services.

The instructions are quick and easy, but don’t take into account any difficulties that may occur through the process. We can’t do that, because the document would become unwieldy, we could lose our audience, or they still wouldn’t answer every deviation from the norm which may occur. And they may, because of different Internet connections, different devices, different operating systems, etc.

So we like to keep our instructions quick and easy and deal with the exceptions as they arise.

However, I saw some simple instructions recently, which were read by someone, who then went above and beyond what the instructions directed. A man before us in the queue for the automated car wash, read the instructions several times. The instructions said to use the brush and soap provided to clean wheels and any particularly bad marks eg. bird poop, on the car, whilst waiting your turn to enter the car wash. We watched in amazement, as after reading for some time, he proceeded to thoroughly wash his car manually with the brush and soap provided, before going through the car wash, which did it all again.

Why? Was English not his first language, so it wasn’t as clear to him as it was to me? Did he misunderstand and thought he was doing what he was instructed? Or didn’t he believe what he was being instructed and so took it further?

Creating help-sheets has just gotten more complicated, as not everyone is coming from the same foundation. After this little experience and some more consideration, I will be taking the testing of my instructions further afield, before I am confident that I have it a product that is going to be able to help the widest audience possible.



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    • Michelle Noble on June 29, 2013 at 11:20 am

    You’ve really got me thinking about how we word our instructions. Another great post. Thanks. :o)

  1. Then my work here is done, lol. Thanks for the comment.

    • Catherine on July 4, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    This is something I struggle with in my job in interlibrary loans – how do you give simple instructions for something that can be quite complex, like locating electronic resources through the library’s discovery layer. How do you write instructions that will be clear to everyone without becoming convoluted? And the big one – how do you get people to READ those instructions, not just the first sentence…?
    This is definitely an area I need to learn more about, thank you for your observations πŸ™‚

    • Karen t Karen's 23 Mobike Things on July 5, 2013 at 3:32 am

    Valid points! It’s a fine line being too simplistic, or being too complicated!

  2. Thanks and it can be further complicated when the things we are trying to explain are complicated….

  3. The reading is the biggest problem. We often say that people become illiterate as soon as they walk in the door, because they miss even the most obvious signs. Including the NO EXIT sign on the door which they continually bump their noses into, lol. Thanks for the comment.

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