One of the most frustrating moments for a customer receiving a brand new product is when they pull out the directions. Often the instructions are incompletely written, written in poor English or just plain non-existent. As someone who buys technology consistently but is not intuitive about it, I can’t tell you how many times I have not understood the included instructions.
One of the most frustrating products I ever bought should have been so simple to assemble. As the owner of an art gallery, I had ordered a print rack on the Internet. It had a metal frame with legs in an X shape and a piece of canvas that attached to the frame to hold the prints. The rack shipped in a flat box and came in six pieces plus screws and canvas. The assembly directions were in broken English without diagrams. It took my husband and I three hours to assemble because there was a trick to it.
When I purchased a digital video camera I ran into a similar problem. While the directions were in readable English, they were written with the assumption that I had owned a video camera before. The terminology was confusing, and I had to look up the model online for a product review that explained how to use it before I could make the videos I needed for business.
As we buy increasing amounts of technology over the Internet, the need for complete product instructions becomes more necessary. When we buy a product from a local store, we can take it back to the shop and have the staff put it together and demonstrate it for us. That is not possible when we buy items from a website.
One of the prevailing problems with instructions is that they are usually written by people who are already familiar with the product. They assume that their customers are people like them, who currently own a similar product and know the industry jargon. But what if the customer is new to this type of technology? Another problem is that the instructions may be written by someone who is not a writer. While a writer is trained to communicate clearly using words that can be understood at a grade school reading level, the technician who writes the instructions is trained to write instructions meant for another technician. If you own a company that manufactures and sells technical products, or even a simple product like my print rack, a best practice is to hire a professional technical writer to create your instructions.
A technical writer has several advantages when writing instructional booklets. The first advantage is training. The writer can take your technician’s instructions and compile them into a document that is understood by the average consumer. Give your freelance writer a description of your target customer, and they will write instructions aimed at that audience. Another advantage is vocabulary. A technical writer has a vast vocabulary from which they can write the document. You can provide them with a list of proprietary brand-specific technical words to insert into the instructions. If you hire a technical writer with experience, they will have written similar instructions in the past, giving them a template to follow.
Including product instructions written by a professional writer will help give your products a professional appearance, which is an investment in your company’s positive public image.
Paula A is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.