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Communications Technology

When Do You Read the Instructions? 135

An anonymous reader asks: "I originally submitted this as a poll, but the answers I'm guessing, were way too long. However, I would like to ask the crowd at Slashdot: When do you read the instructions?"
"So when do you reach for that instruction booklet? Do you:
  • ...research on the internet, in magazines and also pestering friends who own one, so you're an expert before buying said item?

  • ...carefully read the box and all of the instructions even before unwrapping the protective plastic?

  • the instructions and the quickstart guide?
  • ...refer to the instructions and study the quickstart guide?

  • ...lose the instructions when throwing the packaging away, but study the quickstart guide hoping for the best?

  • ...look at quickstart guide when it's not obvious how to turn it on?

  • ...frantically search the instruction book after letting the 'magic smoke' out of your appliance hoping you'll find somewhere saying it's suppose to do that?

  • ...after it's been smashed to pieces with a hammer?"
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When Do You Read the Instructions?

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  • Importance... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by megaversal ( 229407 ) on Sunday December 19, 2004 @07:01AM (#11129139)
    Depends on how important it is... if it's for my servers that thousands of users at work need to access, you can be sure as hell I read the release notes.

    If I'm just playing around... that's it, I play around and look at the manual if there's a problem.
  • I look at the box, and then try it. If it's not obvoius how it works then after some fiddling I might look at the instructions. I've worked in a computer shop for the last 3 odd years and it hasn't failed me yet.
  • I think the only time I ever touch manuals and instruction books is when something breaks or is bugging the hell out of me. Usually it doesn't help much either :)
  • I never (Score:5, Funny)

    by Konster ( 252488 ) on Sunday December 19, 2004 @07:17AM (#11129175)
    I never read manuals, but I'd be willing to start if they started putting pictures of naked women in them.

    I also use manuals needed! Plug and Play! USB! I never buy stuff from companies that don't have an 800 tech support number. Let THEM read the manual to me!

    • Re:I never (Score:5, Funny)

      by Lamieur ( 839373 ) on Sunday December 19, 2004 @07:47AM (#11129240) Homepage
      Some of us are too shy to call vibrator-vagina-maker's tech-support... I admire you.
      • If you're not too shy for that, you probably don't need one of those. Confidence is worth more than both good looks and hard cash, when it comes to chicks.
        • Good looks and hard cash breed confidence, though.
          • Where:
            Confidence = c
            Eyecatching = e
            Money = m

            Confidence is most important, looks are secondary, and money comes last... at least if you're looking for a woman who you'd actually want to be with right? You can always counteract being good-looking with a little bit of money, and a lot of condfidence. But you can't have more confidence than your looks, or you'll end up looking like an ass. So the equation goes:


            YMMV. It's all relative

    • hrm. i remember something here ./ that i of course can't find. but it was something about how the differences in cultures makes for different instruction manuals. i think the most "naked women"-esque example was either an italian or spanish manual for a color printer featured examples of nude photos.

      not sure though.
    • Instructions should be read before.
      I swear it takes too long.
      So I read them afterwards instead
      To see where I went wrong.
    • Perhaps if they put pictures of naked women in the EULA people might read it ("just for the articles," of course).

      Then again, they might never get past the EULA in which case they wouldn't be violating it, would they?

      "By reading this agreement you automatically consent to be bound by its terms."
  • I read the article, i am going to read the instructions.
  • opening up a new box and figuring it out yourself. A lot of times if I'm installing hardware (especially USB), I see if the quick start guide says to install software then plug in or visa versa. But I definitely don't follow things step by step through the manual. I often look at the book when something doesn't work, but most "troubleshooting" steps found in support manual are so amateur that they are useless. I don't like to call customer support for anwers; many times I'll just post on a relevent me
    • "...most 'troubleshooting' steps found in support manual are so amateur that they are useless."

      Amen. Nobody makes good manuals anymore, including program language software vendors. Seems most everybody now thinks "Help" is adequate. The only salvation is third-party manuals, which are usually frightfully expensive.

      My kingdom for a good tech manual!
  • by kipple ( 244681 ) on Sunday December 19, 2004 @07:31AM (#11129212) Journal
    if you call "instructions" that small piece of paper that goes with the object, well, no I don't read them. They are usually useless - spending more pictures and pages for the dummy window (l)user, and not telling any technical detail. It's more entertaining to search for the "technical manual" on the Net, if there's any.
    The only case when I -very quickly- read them it's when I'm looking for the default password of a piece of networked equipment. which usually it's not even written down.



    open source is like poker: would you trust a deck of card that you cannot see being shuffled, but you have to trust who said it was done?
    • "open source is like poker: would you trust a deck of card that you cannot see being shuffled, but you have to trust who said it was done?" Shouldn't that be closed source?
    • Huzzah! I remember when "manuals" had enough information to write drivers, as a matter of course. Dot Matrix printer manuals used to come with documentation of the printer control codes, and instructions on how to make a BASIC program to do graphics, and such. Modem manuals used to come with full explanation of the AT command set and all redgisters. (And no, I'm not speaking in hyperbole, I'm citing specific examples!)

      Nowadays, you are lucking if the modem manual says "User are to make under installing
  • I'm confused (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MyGirlFriendsBroken ( 599031 ) <.moc.em. .ta. .yelekrebretxed.> on Sunday December 19, 2004 @07:33AM (#11129215) Homepage Journal
    Are there devices out there which are not operated by a hammer?
  • ...research on the internet, in magazines and also pestering friends who own one, so you're an expert before buying said item?

    ...carefully read the box and all of the instructions even before unwrapping the protective plastic?

    Yes and yes. I always read the instructions. I wish everyone would.

    • Why?

      I just got the motorola V551 to hook up with my powerbook. Surprised that it came with a charged battery, i asked the guy if I could test it out to make sure it worked.

      I learned motorola's phone menu system in about 5 minutes, and had it transfering files to my powerbook without even looking to see if there was a manual. I then spent about an hour at home searching the web to find the features I really wanted, and made the phone work the way I wanted it to, spent another half hour configurating the
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If the user interface is well thought out and cleanly designed, no instructions should be needed to use the device (software or hardware) correctly.

    If you require instructions, the device is too complicated and is badly designed.

    The obvious exception is where the equipment is dangerous / mission critical / requires complicated user interaction. For example, cars have a pretty simple interface (at the minimum: a wheel and two pedals), but you need to know the rules of the road to use these machines safely.
  • by harikiri ( 211017 ) on Sunday December 19, 2004 @08:16AM (#11129307)
    I remember reading somewhere that the reason boys and girls differ in their computer expertise (on average) is due to the following:
    • Boy jumps onto the computer, plays with it till he breaks some part of it, and is forced to figure out how to fix it.
    • Girl, terrified of breaking the computer, demands to be shown what to do before using it.

    Note: Yes this is a broad generalisation, but this is slashdot.

    Because the guys jump into using it so quickly, they learn faster through trial and error. The pace of learning with girls is a lot slower due to their desire to know how stuff works first.

    This has parallels with "reading instructions". From the large sample of friends that I have, very few of them (male) ever choose to read the instructions.

    Personally, I'm affronted that I even need to read the instructions (especially for consumer electronic items). In this day and age, electronic items (VCR/DVD/camcorder/digicam) should be usable by anyone who spends 60 seconds playing with it (think iPod). In short, we should not ever need to read instructions.

    • by david duncan scott ( 206421 ) on Sunday December 19, 2004 @10:53AM (#11129892)
      I'm not so sure that they learn faster. They may pick up particular tasks more quickly, but they may also miss (I know I have) whole areas of function simply because they haven't stumbled into them yet.

      Reading the manual gives you the CD-ROM drive. Playing with things gives you the cup holder.

    • And those of us who read the documentation, and aren't affraid to break anything, learn the fastest.

      At a minimum I will skim the docs. Even if the item is very simple. The item may use new features or have a different interface. I want to get the most out of anything I buy.

      The sibling post's cd-rom or cup holder comment is true.
    • Uh, I'm a boy and I even learn non-computer games
      such as Magic faster by RTFM than by just trying.

      Playing (under assistance) during RTFM helps,
      though. Watching rarely, even assisted.
    • Actually, as a girl (more or less) I do a bit of both. Something very complex (like C++) I'll read up on it some first, then get in and break it. I break Linux distros regularly.

      It did take me awhile to get over a childhood of being yelled at for messing with stuff my brother always got to play with.

      Leave girls alone and give 'em tools, and they'll break stuff too!

    • I'm not sure about the boy/girl distinction, but it does seem to me that the trial&error break-it/fix-it cycle does seem to be a better way of learning about computers. Probably all sorts of other things, too, but I'm quite sure book-learning isn't the best way to learn to operate or repair computers.

      First, because computers are so much about convention that they'll never make sense unless you just jump in and start using it. Second, because books so often tell you how a computer should work, but rar

    • Because the guys jump into using it so quickly, they learn faster through trial and error. The pace of learning with girls is a lot slower due to their desire to know how stuff works first.

      This applies to relationships, too.
  • It Depends (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ann Elk ( 668880 ) on Sunday December 19, 2004 @08:38AM (#11129367)
    • If I'm buying something I've never used before (software, home electronics, kitchen appliance, whatever), then I: a) research it to death on the Internet, b) research it to death at the library/book store, c) research it to death by pestering my friends, then d) go to a store and make an impulse buy.
    • If it's something new to me, then I always read at least parts of the manual. How much of the manual (and how closely I read it) is usually determined by the complexity of the product. Did I read the manual when I bought my first USB pen drive? No way. Did I read it when I bought my first DVD player? Somewhat. Did I read it when I bought my first wireless access point? You bet.
    • If I'm upgrading something, then I may or may not read anything. Did I read the release notes when upgrading from Mozilla 1.7.3 to 1.7.5? No. Did I read them when upgrading from Fedora Core 2 to Fedora Core 3? Of course.
  • When you first get it, you're usually too excited to be bothered by a thick manual. The quickstart suffices for a while, while you fiddle around with it.

    But for complex gadgets with more than an on/off switch, and I'm talking things such as digital cameras, mp3 players and the like, there are typically more options than you could manage to figure out on your own, even if given the time. A lot of the extras in gadgets like these are harder to do than a street fighter combo.

    Take the time to read through
    • I got my sony dsc-p10 about 18 months ago, and I never read the manual. I had it all down after a few uses. The camera with a P next to it means "panoramic", etc.
      This was my first digital camera, prior to this I've only owned a ~$20 35mm.

      My point is, I love figuring things out, and this was a piece of cake. Some people don't read the manuals just for the challenge.
  • when Cowboy Neal tells me to!
  • problems (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PerlDudeXL ( 456021 )
    If I have problems with some specific hardware I look into the manual or if I need some tech-specs
    like horizonal or vertical frequencies of a monitor. Most of the time those QuickStart guides
    are useless for be because they focus on setting up the hardware in windows environments.

    I bought a new TFT Flatscreen and the manual was provided on a CD. My luck was that the screen
    accepted my XOrg settings and worked right out of the box. The manual itself was a set of html pages
    that didn't work under linux using fi
  • I read the directions once I've let the magic smoke out of the device in question. You see, all electronics works on magic smoke. This is easily proved by the fact that if you let the magic smoke out of your electronic device, it generally no longer functions.
  • Depends on the product, really.

    For the wireless router I picked up, I looked long enough through the manual to pick up the configuration address for my browser-- I already knew how to set it up otherwise.

    For my recent motherboard upgrade, I checked the manual thoroughly to make sure there weren't going to be any surprises on the compatibility front, especially with RAM.

    For videogames, I typically check the story section, a quick glance at the controls, and a quick glance over the weapons, with a later fu
  • I translate them :)
  • Read the manual? I'm sorry, Manuel is not home now.
  • by Howie ( 4244 )
    If I'm looking for something for a very specific purpose, and there's a particular feature I want ot be really sure is going to work how I want, then I won't buy without being able to download the manual beforehand. I recently bought a Pioneer AV amp, and wanted to be clear on whether it *really* had 3 digital ins, or 1 and 1 you could switch from optical to electrical, for example.

    Other things only get the manuals read when I'm either really bored or really stuck. I've never read the manual for my origina
  • Only when I can't get the device working or I want to fully understand what can be done with it.
  • Only if it'll get me fired if I screw up or killed.

    Expensive hardware comes in at work? Yeah, I'll read the instructions (I don't do that type of stuff much though).

    New gun? Yep, read the instructions. Unless I already have one just like it.
    • damn bosses - firing you for getting killed.
    • Gun manuals can be ridiculous. I blame the lawyers. They enumerate every possible way that you could intentionally or unintentionally hurt someone/something, and tell you "DANGER: DO NOT PULL TRIGGER WHILE MUZZLE IS POINTED AT YOUR HEAD" and other such gems of gun safety. They stop just short of telling you to disassemble the gun and scatter its parts to the four corners of the Earth, otherwise you might shoot something with it.
  • Safety (Score:3, Insightful)

    by c ( 8461 ) <> on Sunday December 19, 2004 @12:52PM (#11130583)
    If there's a potential safety issue (beyond just using electricity), I definitely read the instructions. You don't assemble and use something involving exposed chunks of metal spinning at thousands of RPMs without reading unless you've got a deathwish. That means power tools, small engines, etc. Ignore the safety sections of the manuals, though. That's always generic boilerplate drivel like turn off the engine and let it cool before filling with gas and don't touch the blade when saw is operating. The important stuff is in the assembly, operation and maintenance sections.

    I might read the instructions for expensive/irreplacable items, as well. Unless I don't own them.


    • If there's a potential safety issue (beyond just using electricity), I definitely read the instructions.


      A week or so ago I was installing some ethernet runs in a steel factory. The guy who was instructing me where to put things said "Mount it inside the PLC, right here. Be careful not to touch that stuff, though... that's live 480 volt, it'll make you dance."

      We also couldn't use zip ties - after a couple of months appearantly the corrosive environment eats through them and they break.

  • on the throne (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kcornwell ( 555464 ) <deduction@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Sunday December 19, 2004 @01:03PM (#11130666) Homepage
    I read instructions for nearly everything I buy while I'm on the can. The time required is usually enough to scan for anything important or interesting. The technical specs are almost always interesting, and sometimes I miss a feature that is not obvious in the product (think cell phones).
  • Google (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    > When do you read the instructions?

    What's wrong with Ask Slashdot? Here's yet another example of a question that can be easily answered using Google [].
  • by notcreative ( 623238 ) on Sunday December 19, 2004 @01:43PM (#11130896) Journal
    when the object has caught fire.
  • ...research on the internet, in magazines and also pestering friends who own one, so you're an expert before buying said item?

    Got me right off the bat. I don't buy often, I only buy what I know will work, and I have a full and complete understanding of what I'm buying before I do.

    Guess I'm a late adopter.
  • I've tried, but you can't follow them. Betweem being written in some language that doesn't exist. Sure it looks like English, but even in the most slang versions English doesn't allow the grammar used. As a native English speaker I'm often unable to figure out what is intended.

    That above assumes that the step is there. In most cases the instructions go from step 4 to step 6 without any indication. (that is the numbers are 1,2,3,4,5,6..., but there is a step 4.5) Often I notice this because I can fi

  • When stuff is broken, attitude being why should I spend my time figuring something out, if its written, in big red letters, "Don't press the big red button."

    The other reason is for non-consumer level gear. A Linksys router I would fully expect to be plug and play. A high-end Cisco router? perhaps not.
    A 3rd party microcontroller dev-kit? I had to look up the datasheet for the power regulator they used to find out what kind of power it wanted. At which point there aren't as many manuals written at which poin
  • by Verne ( 249617 ) on Sunday December 19, 2004 @03:23PM (#11131610)
    Instructions should be read first, or not at all. Anything else is admitting defeat.
  • Manuals? What manuals? I use a Mac, our software is always so well designed that it doesn't need manuals.
  • When do I RTFM? I'd say the informal rule I use is 1) when what I'm getting into is unlike anything I've done before and the cost (typically) of failure is catastrophic, or 2) if I'm really stuck.

    What's a good example of the first? I'm not sure, since I don't typically read the manual. I would suppose when I installed Gentoo the first couple of times I read the manual. Now, I just use a checklist. Originally, building a system like that was totally unfamiliar and I was really stuck.

    When I was a kid, and c
  • Like most people here I RTFM as a last resort.
  • My new table saw? yeah, I read the directions. A portable radio? no.
  • to deterimine if I supposed to install the CD/software or hardware first.
  • I'm always reading as much as I can as early as I
    can. This has saved me a lot of hassle (e.g. I
    never bought a "copy"-protected CD because it was
    lacking the "CD Digital Audio" logo).

    Of course, everyone else I know is even too lazy
    to read the quickstart guide or the less-than-1K
    BSD licence throughoutly.
  • My 1/50th $ (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fubar420 ( 701126 ) on Sunday December 19, 2004 @10:11PM (#11134111)
    Figured I'd share this one, since it's relevant to the topic at hand.

    I just bought myself a new digital camcorder, all the bells and whistles, natch. So I record a few friends and I outing to buy an XMas tree, and a few other things. So often, especially with complex equipment, how to do something is not always immediately clear;

    Want to turn on night-mode or light assist? Oh, you need to switch the camera to program mode, go into the menu and select the moon icon.

    Want to take still pictures? Move the dongle to the top, and press the record button. Cant do that? Oh yeah, we ship you a card full of sample images so you have to erase it first.

    You want to erase it? Just flip the dongle back to the bottom, choose picture review, and then format card.

    Now, its time to transfer the video off. Well, the camera has USB2.0 and FireWire (dv) output, but only includes the USB cable. Well, no matter, my mac's in the shop anyhow. So I plug in the USB cable to a windows box I found collecting dust, since I couldnt find USB drivers for the camera in linux.

    So when I plug the camera in, windows just stares at me. I read through the quick start manual, and it says flip to "picture" mode instead of "movie" mode. Seems odd to me, but whatever.

    So I flip it, and the software comes up, and says pick some pictures to download. Sure enough, lots of sample images, but no mention of getting my movie off.

    So I go back to the manual.

    And then, several hours of reading it later (could they have cut the esperanto section and included an index PLEASE???) I find a small one line comment hidden at the bottom of the page that discusses hooking my camera up to ANOTHER CAMERA.

    That note?

    "You will need to purchase a seperate DV cable to transfer video from the camera"

    So yeah, I play first, and then read the manual, and then post on slashdot how shitty the manuals are :-)
  • If I get home and don't have to poop, I don't read the instructions until if/when I hit a roadblock. If I do have to poop, the the manual may be used as bathroom reading material.

    I'm thinking I should have gone anonymous with this one.. *shrugs*
  • I rarely look properly at the instructions unless something either breaks or I can't figure out how to use a certain function. But there are a few exceptions.

    • On the bus - If my shopping trip was via public transport (or someone else is driving) I will skim the instructions during the journey home. It gives me something to do - unless I also went to the comic shop
    • Unfamiliar stuff - If it's unlike anything I've got before then I'll read them so I don't screw up.
    • Research - I've downloaded a few PDFs of
  • I usually read the instructions while the battery is charging and I can't do anything with the device, but am too interested in the device to wait.
  • Instructions, as in a manual of some kind? I would gladly read them if I could, but the manual always seems to be missing. I think David Pogue might have something to do with that.
  • I read the instructions when it's mission-critical, when I'm completely new to it (first time DB install EVER, for example,) or when my brain's fried, and I care more about making it work than tweaking the hell out of the internals.

    Or, of course, if I can't figure out how the hell it turns from jet to robot and back.
  • If the product is actually something that might not be intuitive [read: "enterprise" software] or amusing [read: RPG/strategy game] I'll generally skim through the manual while the product is installing.

    I mean, there's nothing else to do then...
  • By the time I've found the section in the manual that's in my language, I could have fiddled with the thing long enough to have fixed the problem. I think my record is 20 languages in one manual.

  • It saves trouble later to at least scan the instructions. That way, if something goes wrong, I know my way around the manuals and can find things quickly.

Garbage In -- Gospel Out.