After several decades of user-friendly software development
and user-centered documentation for it, I would have thought
that software companies would have mastered the simple art
of writing clear instructions, heeding such recommendations
as Specify not only what to do and why, but also how to do it
or Place condition before action. I was to realize, sadly enough,
that it was all wishful thinking, as I was getting ready to install
“Open XML File Format Converter for Mac 1.0” from Microsoft.
The download and install instructions on Microsoft's Web site
(as of Sun 15 Nov 2009) are reproduced below: what a mess!
On a macrostructural level, eight steps are simply too many—
too many for such a simple case but also too many in general
for users to gain an overview of the process ahead (as a test,
read all steps once and see how many of them you remember:
it will give you an idea of how prepared you are for the task).
The sequence is dubious, too. Checking that your computer
meets the minimum system requirements (Step 3) comes late
(should it not come first?). Worse: one must click Download
after quitting all running applications—including the browser?
Step 1, if needed at all, might be placed before the sequence,
as a preliminary action, but not as one of the numbered steps.
Visually, the use of bold does not help (see Entry 7): as a test,
read just the bold words to see if they make sense in isolation.
On a redactional level, things are hardly better. The text places
conditions after actions (“Print this page if…”), fails to specify
how to carry out certain actions (where you can find Download,
what the minimum system requirements are), leaves dead ends
(in 8, what if the installation does not “finish successfully”?)
and is generally confusing about what to do in what case (in 5,
must I understand that, if I am using Safari, I must not “follow
the instructions on the screen”). The writing lacks conciseness,
too: perhaps Step 2 can just say Quit all running applications?
Similarly, the excessively long name of the product unavoidably
leads to noun phrases that tax the user's short-term memory,
as “the Open XML File Format Converter for Mac 1.0 volume”.
Further down on the same page, the instructions to “remove
this download” (reproduced below) are even more confusing.
These remove instructions fail to tell you why you might want
to “remove your existing converter application preferences”
or perhaps “remove all converter files”, but they do tell you
how to do it… only to tell you later not to do it in some cases.