Let me tell you a New Year story.
Once upon a time in a country far, far away, Technical Communicators gathered to hold a council.
(spoiler alert: no verbal abuse or blood shed)
They got an agenda (naturally, no effective meeting without agenda).
(Have a look if you absolutely need to:
-how to help users
-how to help businesses
-how to develop in our sphere
Feel secure about your future now?)
But the spotlight of the yearly council was the Show ( not obvious from the carelessly written agenda). Everyone knew that on that very first day of a new year, the Great Master of All Procedures and Instructions (* title awarded to the most skilled Information Developer of the year) would traditionally showcase her talent and write the most clear task-oriented procedure of the year. Everyone was so excited, anticipation palpable (crossed out, ’cause no respectable Information Developer writes like that).
Huge crowd of finest minds and always-ready-to-write people gathered around the self-made stage where the Great Master of All Procedures and Instructions should present her procedure for opening a can of peaches (yes, peaches).
But somehow the Great Master of All Procedures and Instructions was late. The audience were sure that was for a purpose, probably some rhetorical effect.
And then, the silence was broken, and a kid of 4 and something years appeared on the stage. Met with silence, the young man held his can like a treasure. Can with peaches. The can with peaches.
Everyone got excited: something clearly extraordinary was prepared for them.
The boy was so into his can, he took no notice of his audience or the can label with opening instructions, or neatly pressed expiration date, or other trivia. He kneeled, pressed the can to the floor, and hurriedly pulled the lid of the can by the opener.
People were watching open-mouthed as the boy took the lid away. With his thin fingers, he excitedly fished out the peach slice and stacked one-two-three slices into his mouth. Hardly chewing, he added some juice to his cheeks-lips. Happy as a child could be.
Behind the stage, the Great Master of All Procedures and Instructions, a devastated mom, who was looking for her canned peaches and her son, was fish-mouthing to her son to get off the stage. The poor woman was now afraid that was her last year as the Great Master of All Procedures and Instructions.
Little did she know.
Someone gasped grasping the threads of the discourse, the audience broke down with applause.
There were no instructions on the stage, just a story about a naughty boy who munched too many peaches. The can was the product, and the boy was a user – one of many, but very real.
The Great Master of All Procedures and Instructions hesitantly trod on the stage, not realizing that all the needed messages were unwittingly sent by the boy’s actions.
No procedure is as effective as the one nested in a story.
Neither moms nor Information Developers have the actual power over kids and users, but stories always do. Keep that in mind, at least when setting examples for your users. Plot can not only instruct but entertain as well. After all, if you have read this article to the end, it only proves in so many words that a story can be a much better attention-gripper than any dry procedure.
What stories do like no other medium is warn about consequences and show the important things. More peach cases where stories would do better:
Try # 2
A schoolboy read the instructions from the last-but-one step till the last one (the crucial one, he thought). He stabbed the poor can with the scissors. Through the hole he was trying to fish out the peach lamps as the last steps instructed. Scratches and cuts ended his explorations.
Try # 3
Another schoolboy has not read a warning about the expiration date, neatly framed before the first step. He did everything right and ate the slices. Hospital bed ended his explorations.
At the end of the day, be it stories or instructions! May your writing be peachy!