Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
Why we don't read manuals
This excellent article by Caroline E. Mayer (Washington Post) nails this important question. There are several thoughtful, and painful to read, quotes in the article. The candid comments include "it's too time consuming", "[manuals] make you feel stupid" and the on-target "... because they're horribly written." Ouch. But listen up, these customers are doing those of us in the industry a favor, if only we're willing to listen.
Fact is, much of what is being said we already know. Write minimally, so instructions don't add unnecessary complexity and time to a task. Use user-centered tasks and terminology so that information can be easily located. Emphasis troubleshooting, since that's when most people turn to the manual.
As for the "quick start" documentation mentioned in the article, that's a great idea, but too often such pieces are so simplistic that they reinforce the notion that you won't learn anything you don't already know, so don't bother looking.