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Owner's Manuals--Who Writes These?!?

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  • Owner's Manuals--Who Writes These?!?

    I'm brand-new to the Ridgid family, having just purchased the 12" CMS w/laser. I'm also relatively new to remodeling and woodworking. My biggest remodeling/building experience to date was gutting and redoing a bedroom three years ago that included painting and laying Pergo. By myself. With a hand-held 7.25" circular saw and a rented 10" miter for cutting baseboard. By myself. No helper whatsoever. (I'm female, too, just so you know.)

    This time, I opted to invest in my very own CMS before gutting yet another bedroom and going through the whole Pergo experience again. I figured it would be much easier to do with a CMS than a hand-held.

    The tool itself is an excellent piece of machinery, nice to look at, not too heavy, and operates smoothly. It's a nice bonus to include the stand. I'm very pleased and believe I made the right choice.

    The manual, however, is awful. Important details are missing that are integral to assembling the saw, unless you have prior experience with this type of tool, and some of the drawings are indecipherable.

    I found that it spoke to the professional who has a strong background in the construction trade, overlooking the possibility that the purchaser might not have this background--therefore it was written with the expectation of "assumed knowledge". A considerable amount of time was spent "translating" the manual and trying to figure out exactly what "double D flats" were (neither musical references nor anatomical), for example, and what neat trick had to be done to allow the lock pin to unlock (aha, push down on the handle first), among other things.

    After re-reading steps for assembly several times, I finally figured out how to do it. But in my head, during the process, I was writing in the left-out steps. I had to rely more on my ingenuity than the actual wording to get to the point where the saw is usable. Granted, I've learned a lot of terms in the process, but it was very frustrating to encounter so many head-scratching spots that almost caused me to give up and go back to the circular saw.

    I'm not familiar with the manuals for Ridgid's other products, but I feel that the manual for the MS1250LZ could benefit from a re-write and a few new illustrations, keeping in mind the fact that not everyone is a contractor or has a lot of experience with power tools (or has a man around to explain it!).

    Additionally, I notice that Ridgid offers video manuals for selected products, but not for the miter saw. It would be helpful to see videos online focusing on the CMS (and others) that have someone demonstrating how to assemble the tool, perform the alignment procedures, and the basics of using it, for those who are new to power tools.

    Other than that, I'm very happy with my new Ridgid CMS and plan to purchase more Ridgid products to add to my growing workshop because the quality, overall usability, and lifetime warranty are excellent.

  • #2
    You are right, I have what I consider more than average experience and found myself reading sections of the EB4424 manual a few times before I deciphered what was being conveyed. I think they are written by the engineers and reviewed by people who have knowledge of the tools. Of course this is not usually a problem with the male philosophy ... 'If all else fails RTFM' ( read the *@&! manual).
    I write many manuals and procedures in my job and found it invaluable to test them on the least experienced member of the team they are intended for, it would be nice if Ridgid would do the same
    PS Welcome to the group


    • #3
      You made me chuckle!

      Let me tell you right off, I'm an unemployed technical illustrator/writer. (Or is it retired early due to American manufacturing's economic ignorance?) I've spent 40 years in technical publications and product support. Frankly it has been an ongoing fight to have management understand the importance of good technical literature and that an illustrator's or writer's first responsibility is to the customer and the integrity of the product.

      I hold a high school degree and have a wealth of mechanical and electro-machanical experience. My primary skill is as a technical illustrator. While I've been fortunate enough to make a living in the past 40 years, I've also been challenged with the fact that the "job" dictates that one must have a "Bachelors Degree" or better. Hence, pay scale is always less and promotion almost always impossible because of the missing piece of paper. Most companies are more concerned with the degree that says a person knows English or Engineering, rather than any concern as to whether or not a person knows how to communicate. At this late age, not having a Bachelors Degree puts me out of the job market.

      The fact is that from my experience most technical writers never see the product, never use it, and probably rarely understand it. In the company that I recently left after thirty years, the senior writers rarely left their desks and certainly never really investigated or had first hand knowledge of the equipment's workings. One could look at some of our intruction manuals and wonder what was the thinking behind statements like "Install the unit in a room of a size to allow for plenty of extension cords" or "all parts are the same, except where different, and then they are of a different size".

      Perhaps being an illustrator helped, but often I found myself filing a void. Too often finding things that were written based on assumptions or old designs or someone's experience of 20 years ago. Very few writers (and for that matter, technical editors) take the time to step through an instruction with the actual product in hand. Too often the saying is, "don't worry about it, nobody reads this stuff anyway!"

      One of my last assignments was to put together a PowerPoint presentation on hydraulic tensioning of assembly bolts. The request came from one of the lead engineers in our Marketing department. My first response was, "Gee, I don't know the details of that. Why don't you ask Engineering or the Technical Publications Dept.?" His response was, "I'm asking you, because you don't know ... and I know you will find out and write it so that the rest of us will understand it." So I did, got rave reviews too. But bottom line is that companies would rather have Bachelors Degrees attempting such things. I think it is easier for them to comprehend that everyone on staff is "highly educated," rather than "highly skilled." It certainly makes things easier to filter for the HR folks.

      Illustration and good technical writing is a responsibility that really needs to be taken seriously. While Engineering does it's best to design a device, manufacturing often has to make changes to make it work in production. Technical Publications has the opportunity to see the end result and the compromises that often occur. A writer's responsibility goes beyond Engineering's input and really should be to communicate the final product to the customer. A good writer should have first hand working knowledge of the product, how it's assembled, how it works, and how it should be setup and maintained. Equally important, they should be talented enough to be able to write in plain language the necessary intructions to ensure the customer's confidence in using the product. As we all know, that rarely happens.



      • #4
        I agree with everything that CWS stated. I am a Systems Engineer and frequently write analysis plans, results of analyses and develop complicated mathematical algorithms that then have to be implemented by software developers with absolutely no knowledge of what I am writing about. It takes skill and a real talent to be able to convey technical ideas, especially very complicated ones, to people with little to no background in what you are writing about. It definitely takes a special talent to be able to translate a technical concept into a meaningful illustration.

        But to add to the problems with manuals for imported tools, and manuals to MANY other imported things that you purchase every day, they are often translated from a foreign language (since they are often manufactured overseas) by a translator who knows nothing about the material and probably knows very little about the English language. I found an illustration error in my German-made 1/2" hammer drill manual.

        I always love buying something where the illustrations and instructions don't match what was in the box because a change was made during production and they didn't bother to update the documentation!

        [ 06-08-2004, 08:54 AM: Message edited by: George ]


        • #5
          I have no experience with the CMS instructions but have assembled the 3612, jointer, planer, and bandsaw. The instructions were easily the best I have used with one complaint: The instructions for the spacers on the 3612 are either wrong, incomplete or just poorly written.