Sometimes it's hard to figure. You labor to
get the words just right. You write
instructions for users of your services,
design what appear to be straightforward
procedures (to you). You explain...but
still, customers get it wrong. They don't
fill in forms properly, they go to the wrong
place even though everything is clearly
marked...perhaps they are dim-witted?
No, probably not. We
often forget that the meaning of words
depends on the way people interpret them.
And our language is very ambiguous. For
example, when you say "Just go through that
door", one obvious meaning is that the
person should walk through the doorway.
However, another possible interpretation is
for them to attempt to go through the door
with great, crashing energy (i.e. break it
down). A police officer attempting to arrest
a felon might be more likely to see the
second meaning, most of us would think that
the first meaning is obviously the one
intended. So, not only do the words carry
meaning, but the context, situation and
experiences of the individual hearing the
words carry considerable weight.
We've pulled together
some examples of misunderstandings taken
from the computer world, partly because they
are very funny and partly because they help
highlight that what we may take for granted
is not so simple. When writing material for
the public (or other customers), it is
always useful to evaluate whether it will
"make sense" the way you want.
An AST customer was asked
to send a copy of her defective diskettes. A
few days later a letter arrived from the
customer along with Xeroxed copies of the
A Dell technician advised
his customer to put his troubled floppy back
in the drive and close the door. The
customer asked the tech. to hold on, and was
heard putting the phone down, getting up and
crossing the room to close the door to his
Another Dell customer
called to say he couldn't get his computer
to fax anything. After forty minutes of
trouble-shooting, the technician discovered
the man was trying to fax a piece of paper
by holding it in front of the monitor screen
and hitting the "send" key.
A Dell technician
received a call from a customer who was
enraged because his computer had told him he
was "bad and an invalid". The tech.
explained that the computer's bad command"
and "invalid" responses shouldn't be taken
Another customer called
Compaq tech support to say her brand-new
computer wouldn't work. She said she
unpacked the unit, plugged it in, and sat
there for 20 minutes waiting for something
to happen. When asked what happened when she
pressed the power switch, she asked "What
Compaq is considering
changing the command "Press Any Key" to
"Press Return Key" because of the flood of
calls asking where the "Any" key is.
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