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Life is too short to RTFM: how users relate to documentation and excess features in consumer products

Alethea L. Blackler, Rafael Gomez, Vesna Popovic, M. Helen Thompson

This paper addresses two common problems that users of various products and interfaces encounter—over-featured interfaces and product documentation. Over-featured interfaces are seen as a problem as they can confuse and over-complicate everyday interactions. Researchers also often claim that users do not read product documentation, although they are often exhorted to ‘RTFM’ (read the field manual). We conducted two sets of studies with users which looked at the issues of both manuals and excess features with common domestic and personal products. The quantitative set was a series of questionnaires administered to 170 people over 7 years. The qualitative set consisted of two 6-month longitudinal studies based on diaries and interviews with a total of 15 participants. We found that manuals are not read by the majority of people, and most do not use all the features of the products that they own and use regularly. Men are more likely to do both than women, and younger people are less likely to use manuals than middle-aged and older ones. More educated people are also less likely to read manuals. Over-featuring and being forced to consult manuals also appears to cause negative emotional experiences. Implications of these findings are discussed.


Interacting with Computers, Vol. 28, No. 1. (January 2016), pp. 27-46, https://doi.org/10.1093/iwc/iwu023 
Key: INRMM:14636162

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