Video Instructions: 5 Golden Rules

Many companies have now turned to video for showing customers how to use their product. Videos are an excellent way to connect with customers. However, they should still follow the five golden rules for good instructions.

  1. Never assume. Start your instructions from the very beginning–that might mean showing the viewer or reader how to plug in the product or where to find the start button. If you are offering a series of videos, building in complexity or detail, make sure you refer to the previous videos for viewers who are not aware they are starting in the middle.
  2. Be consistent. Always refer to buttons, menu items, the names of previous videos (or chapters), operations, processes, and so on using the same exact terms. Your viewer will quickly become confused if the same screen shot is called the “home page,” the “opening screen,” or “screen 1” in different videos or different parts of the same video.
  3. Be thorough. Before your release a video or written procedures, follow the instructions using only the steps in the video or on the page. If you find your hands doing something else, revise. You overlooked a step and you are in danger of losing your audience.
  4. Be exact. It’s easy to tell a customer “click here” or “see this” or “move this way” without ever defining here” or “this.” But your customers may have no idea what you’re referring to no matter how carefully they watch or read. In addition, customers often try to follow directions while actually working on the product. How can video viewers tell what “click here” means unless they are looking directly at the screen?
  5. Go slow. The best instructions are divided into discrete steps that viewers or readers can master at their own speed. Readers have a lot of control over speed; viewers have very little. If video instructions come at viewers too fast, they have to pause and backtrack and pause and backtrack. All that backtracking interferes with their learning and enjoyment.

You may want to provide written procedures that customers can download based on your videos. The written procedures and videos should at least complement each other even if they aren’t exact duplicates. It they contradict each other, you have a major problem.

Would you benefit from help in creating clear scripts and written procedures for your customers? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications today.

Little Words That Change Content in Big Ways

Once upon a very real time in New York City, an environmental official removed the word “not” from a report determining whether a road should be built along a river. The report emphasized this project should not be allowed because it would pollute the water; but the official said, “I’m not going to stop this project because of one little word.” So he deleted “not.”

Little, simple words can have a lot of power. In fact, the word “simple” itself is one of those words. The actions or instructions that you tell your customers are “simple” will baffle at least some of them. Then they have to decide if they are too dumb to follow simple instructions or if your instructions and product are terrible. Guess what choice they make? To check whether your instructions are clear, accurate and complete, follow what you’ve written down to the letter. If you find your hands doing something that is not written down, then you have to add that step to your instructions. And avoid saying anything is “simple.”

Another word with a lot of power is “only.” When you misplace the word “only,” you also change the meaning of your content. Consider “we only designed one product” versus “we designed only one product.” In the first instance, you only designed (you didn’t manufacture or distribute); in the second instance, you designed only one product (instead of many products). The difference in meaning is significant. Be careful where you place your “only.”

I once heard a story about lawmakers who wanted to ban the importation of fruit trees. However, they placed a comma between “fruit” and “trees” and thereby went without fruit for months before they could change the bill. A misplaced comma can drastically change your content. Consider the difference between “we pay attention to details, generating quality” and “we pay attention to details generating quality.” In the first instance, the act of paying attention to ideas generates quality; in the second instance, you’re paying attention to just those details that generate quality–all the other details you ignore. Where you place commas, periods, semicolons, and colons is important.

If you are worrying whether your content is saying exactly what you mean, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We make sure content is clear, accurate, and compelling, down to the smallest detail.


Great User Manuals: Six Helpful Hints

The last time you struggled through a user manual or set of instructions that left you frustrated, you were probably hoping for:

1. More art. Photos, line drawings, charts and tables are the quickest, clearest and most accurate way to convey a set of instructions–as long as the art is readable. Frustration mounts when reading the art and its labels requires a magnifying glass.

2. More warning. The place to mention what could possibly go wrong is before it happens and, if possible, before the instructions start.

3. More logic. Whatever comes first should be mentioned first. A request to “put out the fire after you fill the buckets with water” is in the wrong order.

4. More checking. Every step of a procedure should be checked by someone performing the actions exactly as written. If hands, feet, or eyes perform an action that is not mentioned in the procedure, then the procedure needs re-writing.

5. More dividers in long procedures. Step numbers, subheads, chapter headings, and notes are all ways of keeping readers on track and moving forward. Frustration mounts again with the use of multiple sub-steps (step or numbers followed by bullets followed by dashes followed by letters); at some point, no one can possibly remember how step 1 relates to step 2.

6. Clear responsibility. Suppose an instruction says, “Hold down the lever with both hands and phone for help if the gage rises above the red line.” Who is phoning for help? The person with both hands on the lever? The person watching the gage? If they are one and same person, is it okay to let go of the lever to phone?

User manuals and instructions are important. When well written, they give customers confidence in the company and cut down on the number of calls to help desks and complaint departments. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, we have the experience to design user manuals and instructions that are clear, concise, accurate and easy to follow. Contact us today.