Microsoft Outlook® User Manual Critique

Microsoft Outlook® User Manual Critique The objective of this paper will be to evaluate Microsoft manual for Outlook®. According to Torkzadeh (1988), author of The Quality of User Documentation, “User documentation is an important tool for communications. It enhances the value of an application to the user and in turn, improves user satisfaction” (p. 99).
When designing a manual Ganier (2007) suggests in his article, Comparative User-Focused Evaluation of User Guides, the strategy for a user manual should focus on 3 characteristics: format, structure, and its content. Ganier in his article also includes the criteria for measuring the quality and efficiency of the manual as, “attractiveness, practicality, simplicity, and efficiency”. The critique of the Outlook® user manual will not evaluate the criteria using a weighted score for each criteria on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is very bad and 5 is very good (Ganier, 2007).Instead, it will provide a written critique of the Outlook® user manual based upon Ganier’s identified characteristics and criteria. Assessment of the Design Strategy The first characteristic of the Outlook® user e-manual is format. Since the Outlook® user manual is in electronic format or e-manual, it can be launched from the application by pressing the F1 key on the keyboard. The cognitive workload required to utilize the function of the e-manual is minimal.
Structure, the second characteristic, refers to the layout of the information and how users access the information based upon their knowledge.New users will typically access the information linearly; in a step-by-step fashion whereas, more experienced users will access the information by function. There is no “Getting Started” section on the main menu with directed instruction for new users. The Outlook® manual is focused toward the experienced user, who would be searching for instructions to perform a particular function. The last characteristic of the design of the Outlook® user e-manual is content, which includes prominent headings, the use of vocabulary the user can comprehend, and the combined use of text and illustrations.The Outlook® e-manual contained very good content. It has step-by-step instructions that are easy to follow with a mixture of applicable illustrations.

The manual uses clear and concise language which is easily understood; however, the only drawback is a lack of illustrations in the manual’s headers. Assessment of Criteria The first criterion Ganier identified for measuring the quality and efficiency of a user manual is attractiveness. (Merriam-Webster’s, 2010) defines attractive as “arousing interest or engaging one’s thought, consideration, etc”.Attractiveness is a subjective measurement which attempts to measure the ability of a manual to entice users to access it. The attractiveness of the Outlook® user e-manual is minimal and the format is very simplistic. The headers are basic, but functional, and the lack of graphics or icons to help identify the topics makes the appearance less attractive and approachable. By using icons along with the headers, it would improve the overall look, making the document look more appealing and approachable.
When clicking on a high level header for “creating messages”, the user is presented with a list of submenu topics from which to choose. The submenu topics have a third level of headings with instruction options for creating an e-mail message. The actual instruction is presented to the user after clicking on 3 levels of topics and sub-topics. It contains an explanation of creating an e-mail with step-by-step instruction and includes a good combination of illustration and white space.Practicality, the second criteria, as it applies to a user manual or an instruction, is whether or not the manual or instruction is designed and applicable to actual use. Overall, the manual is useful if the user is looking for instruction on performing a specific task. The user e-manual does a good job of explaining the various functions of the Outlook® application.
The tool bar menu items include navigation buttons which allow the user to easily move the focus of the manual back one page at a time or by clicking on the home button, to return to the first page. Simplicity is the lack of complexity, r intricacy, (Merriam-Webster’s, 2010). The Outlook® user e-manual fulfills the definition of simplicity in its ability to reach a diverse target audience, with the ability to read and understand the content. Both basic and advanced users can utilize the search function of the manual to find instructions on the topic being searched. Basic tasks, such as creating an e-mail, or tasks for more advanced users, can easily be found in the manual. The user e-manual lacks overall efficiency as it does not give the user the ability to accomplish a task with ease and speed.The user e-manual should allow the user, no matter what their experience level with the application, to be able to access the information in the most efficient manner.
The Outlook® user e-manual headings are not in any particular order and the user must scan the headings to find a specific topic. If the headers were sorted alphabetically, finding the topics would be more efficient. Once the information is found the instruction are clear and concise, and include the appropriate amount of illustrations along with step-by-step instructions. ConclusionThe Outlook® user e-manual is designed to be used in conjunction with the Outlook® application. The manual has good content and is relatively easy to use, with the exception of the need to drill down to multiple sub-headings. The search function of the manual provides an easy way to find information on a particular topic if the reader knows what they are searching for. The lack of icons to illustrate the headings, and the headings not being sorted alphabetically detracts from the attractiveness and the overall usefulness of the document.
Both beginning and advanced users of the Outlook® application can benefit from reading the user e-manual. With the lack of a “Getting Started” section it makes utilizing the document for new users a little more tedious for progressive learning. The actual step-by-step instruction contains detailed and accurate information, which is attractively designed with the appropriate amount of whitespace and illustrations. Overall the user e-manual enhances the value of the Outlook® application and helps the user improve their knowledge in using the application.References Torkzadeh, G. 1988, Fall). The Quality of User Documentation.
Journal of Managment Information Systems, 5(2), 99-108. Ganier, F. (2007). Comparative User-Focused Evaluation of User Guides: A Case Study. J. Technical Writting and Communications, 37(3), 305-322. Attractive.
2010. In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved Nov 23, 2010, from http://www. merriam-webster. com/dictionary/attractive Simplicity. 2010. In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
Retrieved Nov 23, 2010, from http://www. merriam-webster. com/dictionary/ simplicity Outlook® is a registered trademarks of the Microsoft© 2010

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