Did You Hear the One About the User Guide with a Sense of Humor?

Can user documents have a sense of humor?

A while back I posted a simple question: Can tech writers break the rules? I also asked the question on LinkedIn, and we’ve got a great discussion going among several tech writers. One writer, Dave Bicko, says:

I just bought a Peavey Guitar Amp in January. [The manual] was extremely useful, actually funny and included jokes about drummers. A similar guide for a Roland electronic drum kit is written in the typical tech writer style. By the time I figure out what it says, I’m so frustrated, I no longer want to play the drums.

I love this! A funny user guide with jokes! Peavey clearly knows its customers, and it gives them a helpful manual that’s also fun to read. Here’s a company that’s building connections to its customers while meeting a need.

I call this kind of approach to technical documentation content as a service (see also Kai Weber). Peavey views its user guides not merely as a product—some inanimate thing to be implemented or consumed—but as a service that interacts with customers and gives them an experience with Peavey. Something unexpected, something beyond the status quo.

Notice also that this doesn’t require the latest technology. Peavey doesn’t use social media or screencasts or an interactive demo. It’s just good writing with a bit of personality.

So what do you think about the idea of including jokes in user guides? Maybe that wouldn’t work for your documentation—okay, but what’s something that would work? How are you giving your users an experience? How are your documents providing a service?

Bill Kerschbaum is the owner of Intext Writing, a writing service for businesses that want to produce content beyond the status quo. Email him for details.
Photo credit: Daniel Blunt

About Bill Kerschbaum
Bill Kerschbaum is a freelance technical writer and web content writer. He has over 10 years of experience proofreading, editing, and writing materials across a wide range of businesses and industries. Bill owns Intext Writing, a professional writing and editing service. Bill and his family live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a town alive with good food, good music, good learning, and good people.

9 Responses to Did You Hear the One About the User Guide with a Sense of Humor?

  1. Kai says:

    Thanks for the pingback, Bill. If you hit the right note with your audience, humor can go a long way in documentation! Allow me to refer to another post of mine about a manual with grace and style.

  2. ffeathers says:

    Hallo Bill

    Great post! Yes, I think there’s a place for humour in technical manuals. It does depend, as you pointed out, on your audience and even to a certain extent on your medium. There’s probably little room for humour in a guide to an iPhone app, for example. Skipping past the places where humour obviously doesn’t fit, I’ve been noticing a growing trend to break away from the more staid style of technical writing and to dare to bring in a more personality-based approach. I think it’s great.

    One concern that I think is relevant, is how well humour works in documents that are read by people whose native language is not the same as the language used in the manual. So it’s a good idea to compartmentalise the “funny bits” if that’s the case. In one set of manuals I wrote recently (the Here be Dragons installation guide), I was careful to put the funny bits at top and bottom, and the good solid “how to” in the middle. I wrote a bit about the whole experience on my blog too.


    • Sarah,
      I read your post and checked out the first page of Here Be Dragons. Wow, that’s really terrific! What a great way to incorporate tech writing with a quest to make a huge undertaking more fun. Looks like it was a great success.

  3. Pingback: AODC 2010 day 2: Engaging your readers in the documentation « ffeathers — a technical writer’s blog

  4. ffeathers says:

    Hallo Bill, it’s me again 🙂

    At AODC 2010 last month I gave a presentation on engaging readers in the documentation. I added your blog post as a reference in the slides. If you like, you can take a look at the slides (download the PDF) and the summary here:

    Just a few days ago I gave a related presentation at the Atlassian Summit conference. I referred to your blog post in that presentation too. The slides and video will be posted sometime soon on the Atlassian web site. I’ll blog about it when that happens. 🙂


  5. Pingback: Appfire’s Firestarter – Confluence wiki on a stick « ffeathers — a technical writer’s blog

  6. Pingback:   How a mouth-watering user guide got me to rethink technical communication by Communications from DMN

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: