“There’s nothing wrong with the instructions!”


Has someone ever said something like this to you? Basically what they’re really saying is,

I’m not a technical communicator, but anything I write is 100% perfect and shouldn’t be changed!

Now, I know that even everything that *I* write isn’t perfect, but if someone wanted to change one of my documents, I would want to know if they’re really not working (someone may just have a different style/format/color preference), and also why (a.k.a. user testing, which should always be done, but usually isn’t).

I’ve had to deal with some pretty touchy people in all my jobs. A former boss and I call this reluctance “The Bucket Syndrome” (TBS). Everyone has a bucket of stuff they don’t want to let go of. Usually that bucket is filled with documents and other stuff they created that they think doesn’t need to change. TBS became a daily joke when I found this picture, which we used in our presentations to the rest of the staff to remind them to let go of their buckets.

Walrus with blue bucket

At my current job I work part-time in a lab where I test samples sent in from our customers and service centers. In the testing kit they pay for, there are some brightly colored instructions so they don’t miss them. Inevitably they perform the test wrong, which makes my life a hassle, but it could also skew the results. I asked the person running the lab why he thinks this happens and he says, “They don’t read the instructions.” And I asked in reply, “What if they do read them but they’re just not understanding something?”

That’s when I got the fiery retort that made me recoil a little bit. Never had I seen someone so protective over a small set of instructions.

So, will I perform user testing and ask the customers what’s wrong? No, it’s not allowed (we’ll see about that). So, I get to write a form letter that tells them to RTFI! I may make a video and put it on our new website, whenever that gets done.

Keep writing and learning,

Your turn:
What’s are some “Bucket Syndrome” responses you’ve gotten from customers or co-workers? What did you do?


One Response to ““There’s nothing wrong with the instructions!””

  1. I love this post, Christina. I think we all have some form of TBS. I find that many people truly believe that their personal preferences are identical to those of their customers. I’ve encountered situations in which it required profound volumes of usability data before the creator was able to accept that the user perceived the issue through a different lens. You’ve captured this perfectly, AND I love the pictures.

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