Step four: give me a large glass of whisky

December 23, 2005

This Christmas children everywhere will tear off wrapping paper in a frenzy of excitement - only to discover that Daddy can't understand the manual necessary to get their toy working.

Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University have found that across Europe computer programmers and technologists are being landed with the job of writing instruction manuals - with no official training in how to make them comprehensible.

Simeon Yates, senior lecturer in communication studies at the university, said: "They are technical people who don't know how to communicate. So lots of rubbish manuals are being churned out that will make Christmas Day bad."

Sheffield Hallam has set up a distance learning masters course in technical communication that aims to help product designers produce clear instructions that will stop consumers tearing their hair out as they struggle to make their new gadget work.

Students are taught that thinking about how people will make a product work must be part of product design and not something tacked on at the end.

Dr Yates said: "There are basic solutions, such as having the instructions on the outside of the packaging so you don't lose the vital bit of paper in a pile of wrapping paper."

He said most users only worked out how to use 20 per cent of their gadget's features - so the instructions for basic functions must be on the first pages of the manual.

He added: "If you can't get your new DVD player working on Christmas morning, chances are you'll never use it."

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