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Winner of This Year's Worst Manual Contest
2004, Q1 (February 21, 2007)
By Michelle Wier

Technical Standards, a Southern California documentation staffing and technical writing company, today announced the winning entry in its fourth annual Worst Manual Contest. This year's $100.00 prize went to Rhonda Bracey of Western Australia for her submission of a two-page Safety Section from her friend's air-conditioning unit.

The frustration that is caused by a poorly written manual is almost a universal experience. Poor documentation can cause more confusion than comprehension and could lead to liability issues and hidden costs for companies. On the other hand, good product documentation results in satisfied repeat customers, reduced costs, and limited liability exposure for companies.

With entries solicited from the 25,000+ membership of the Society for Technical Communication, Technical Standards' Worst Manual Contest is designed to underscore the importance of clear technical writing for everything from consumer products, computer hardware and software, to employee handbooks.

This Year's Winner

This year's worst manual, submitted by Rhonda Bracey of South Perth, Western Australia, is a section of a User's Guide for a commercial product marketed to the general public. Rhonda's entry only consisted of the twopage Safety Section, but that was enough! As Rhonda puts it, "translator beware!" If the phrase, "…to have the observance without fail to prevent the damage to harm and the property beforehand to the person who use this product and other persons" doesn't scare you, then some of the other text will!"

The symbol key alone provided much material for the staff at Technical Standards to question. For example, the symbol key contained a symbol (twice) that wasn't referenced in the text, but didn't contain a symbol that was referenced. In another instance, the same symbol was used for both Warning and Caution, but each represented very different consequences. The difference between possible death compared to minor injury or material damage seems worth having its own distinction. There were also some amusing symbol descriptions such as, "Attention rousing," "Prohibition" and "Compulsion."

A few excerpts
"Please do not put the one embarrassed because it gets wet under the air conditioner."

"To apply the cold wind to the body for a longtime and so as to not exist about cooling too much"

"Do not blow the wind to animals and plants directly. It occasionally causes a bad influence for animals and plants to be exerted."

Often, poorly written manuals for consumer products can be attributed to translation problems. Clear, accurate translations are extremely important when communicating health and safety warnings associated with operating or assembling a product.

For many end users, bad documentation amounts to nothing more than an inconvenience and possibly a poor impression of the company. But for companies, the results can affect the bottom line in terms of overloaded help lines, reduced revenues from dissatisfied customers who won't come back, and increased liability.

To view the top entries and more information about Technical Standards' annual Worst Manual Contest, visit their Web site at http://www.tecstandards.com.

Michelle Wier works for Technical Standards. She can be reached at michelle at tecstandards dot com. End of article.

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