Instructions Critique: Analysing a User Guide

By Dan_ | _NoTheme_ | 27 Dec 2021


Foreword

Below is a critique of an instructional user guide for a travel mug. The focus is strictly on the English language content. Furthermore, the majority of the grammatical errors have been ignored for the sake of avoiding a bloated and repetitive analysis.

 

One-Is-All user guide (below)

Four pages of a travel mug user guide, written in both English and Chinese, with several separate sections containing instructions.

Critique

Content

The most apparent issue with the contents of this user guide is its lack of background information. There is no description or labelling of the product and its components, or details of what is included in the product packaging.


Both issues could be solved by adding a single section illustrating the contents of the box, with a brief summary of the product’s key features. This would also allow product users to immediately notice if they are missing a component, such as an accompanying spare lid.

Layout

While the use of banners in conjunction with headings is an effective method of signposting instructional material, this concept is poorly executed in this user guide. The use of white font against a bright lime-yellow banner makes it difficult for readers to distinguish the words. Instead, the headings should be heavily contrasted against the banners, and additionally, the headings should be in bold font to differentiate their format to that of the body text.


Furthermore, the lack of space between separate steps within sections and on the cover page has the effect of clumping the text together. this makes it difficult for readers to distinguish between steps. Adding negative space in these areas would emphasize individual steps better.

Organisation

The absence of a basic document outline at the beginning of this user guide forces readers to locate the sections and identify each section’s function. Furthermore, the section organisation is poorly structured, as is evident from the unnecessary numbering of the ‘About container wash’ section, and lack of numbering/ordering of the hand washing steps.


By removing the unnecessary numbering from the ‘About container wash’ section and instead adding numbers to the hand washing steps, readers would avoid confusion in the former section, and would find the latter steps easier to follow.

Writing Style

This user guide fails to apply both specific language and consistency in its writing style. In the section titled ‘About container wash’, step ‘2’ advises against the use of cleaning products with ‘high levels of bromide’. However, the instruction does not specify what constitutes a ‘high level’ of bromide. This step would be much clearer if it was phrased: ‘…containing more than 10ml of bromide per/100ml of the cleaning solution’. This specific language enables the reader to better follow the instruction.


Additionally, the writing style of the guide is inconsistent. This is evident in the section titled ‘Notice’. Each instruction in this section outlines activities the reader should avoid with the product. However, each sentence begins differently: ‘Please do not’; ‘Shall not be used’; ‘Shall not use’; ‘Do not’. Instead, each step should begin with ‘Do not’ or be in a section titled ‘Don’t’, thus allowing the reader to immediately recognize the purpose of the section and each of its steps.

Graphics

This user guide completely lacks graphics, and many of the instructions it contains are thus unclear to the reader. This is most apparent in the ‘Warning’ section. Step ‘2’ states not to overfill the container as this can lead to serious injury. However, the instruction is vague and contradicting, stating not to fill the container ‘beyond’ and ‘below’ the ‘bottom of threads’. What exactly constitutes ‘threads’, and their top/bottom? While a measurement is provided, it is unpractical for product users to measure this for each use.


This warning would be much clearer if it was accompanied by a simple graphic depicting the product, with an arrow pointing to the limit of where the container should be filled. This would also reduce the risk of the company being held liable for unclear instructions.


Works Cited
  • Alred, G., Brusaw C. and Oliu W., (2015) The Handbook of Technical Writing, 11th ed., Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
  • Gurak, L. and Lannon, J., (2018) Technical Communication, 14th ed., USA: Pearson.
  • Markel, M. and Selber, S., (2018) Technical Communication, 12th ed., Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
  • Strunk, O. and White, E.B., (2000) The Elements of Style, 4th ed., USA: Pearson.
  • Wallwork, A., (2014) User Guides, Manuals, and Technical Writing: A Guide to Professional English, New York: Springer.

 

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Dan_
Dan_

English & History graduate, currently working full time in Ecommerce and finishing an MA in technical writing. Work experience in content writing, technical writing and instructional design. Passionate about reading, SEO, history and BTC.


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