Learning from others

I spent most of the weekend laying, re-laying, cutting and swearing at laminate flooring. I read the provided instructions, measured twice (hell, four or five times in most cases) but still it proved problematic. I re-read the instructions, googled a little and then, after some experimentation finally figured out what the problem was… me.

Well not just me, but my interpretation of the instructions which were a little vague in one key area. Namely, where to start. This is crucial as, most laminate flooring needs to be laid the correct way to make it possible to snap all the pieces into place. It’s a one-directional jigsaw puzzle, if you will.

The details here aren’t important, but what it taught me (for the umpteenth time I guess) is that documentation needs to be complete, unambiguous and for hardware related matters at least, a picture tells a thousand stories.

I keep going back to the assumed knowledge angle, and it rings true for this example. One of the forums I found during a frantic Googling session yielded a comment along the lines of: “The professionals know this but it’s not something you’ll find in the instructions”.

I have been guilty of this in the past. Presumption is the silent virus that can kill an otherwise excellent piece of documentation stone dead. All it takes is one presumption to render an entire document AND THE PRODUCT IT IS SUPPORTING, next to useless (or at the very least “problematic”). Introducing that kind of negative thinking at an early stage of the product lifecycle makes it very hard to undo.

Although that, itself, is a presumption. I’m presuming that most people only read the documentation when they are still novice users. So maybe that is another presumption that I need to work on removing.


  1. For a while, I lived in Christchurch, on the South Island of New Zealand. There I met a species, of well, women. Women in New Zealand might be classed as such. They were the first to give themselves a vote. I am told the political economy of NZ is of gender not class.

    That aside, this species, happened to be women. Maybe men do this job in other places – like nursing and teaching – in some countries men do nursing and teaching.

    This species also happened to be American. They had many reasons for being in NZ – NZ spouses and spouses who moved to NZ for all manner of reasons.

    So, what did these mainly women, mainly American do. They were technical writers. In Christchurch where I lived, there were several technical writing firms. They write instructions. And they were interesting how they went about it. It is a serious business. This isn’t an amateurish sort of business, they take some care of it.

    If you need one of them let me know. I can link you up via linked in.


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