Humor and friendly chat in user documentation

January 18, 2011

Is there a place for humor and/or friendly chat in user documentation? While many would say ‘Never!’, I’ve always wondered if I should try it.

‘Why?’ you ask. Because MANY moons ago (actually 10+ years ago), I came across a software user manual that used humor well, and that spoke personally to you as though the writer was sitting next to you talking you through stuff. It was for a piece of 3D software (I was working for a software company that converted 2D movies into 3D), and it wasn’t even for software that I used. I can recall reading some of their doco and liking how they’d written it — and the passion of the technical writer for his product. In fact, I liked it so much, I think I read the entire manual (yes, I need to get a life!), and I emailed the author to congratulate him on writing such an accessible manual. From memory, he even replied.

Obviously I liked it so much that even today I still remember the name of the software. So, the other week I went hunting to see if the company is still around and if they still create documentation that I wanted to read. And the answer to both is a resounding ‘Yes’. (Update Nov 2018: No longer appears to exist)

The company was Electric Rain and they made a 3D rendering product called Swift.

I took a few screen shots (in 2011, when they were still operating) of various parts of the manual to show you how the technical writer approached his users when describing certain features and functions of the software (his step-by-step instructions are fairly typical of most technical writing).

For this software and its target audience, I would suspect that his style of writing would go over well. Here are a few examples (click on an image to show it full size):


  1. Given the right audience, yes: in rare circumstances humor and/or friendly chat definitely can work in documentation. You have to be careful to keep the focus on the information and not on the tone, but you can do it.

    After-market documentation offers even more potential for a humorous, lighthearted tone. Here’s my favorite example.

  2. Given the right audience, I guess this kind of writing would work well. The problem is with the “right”. I am not that kind of an audience, I guess, because if I were to be presented with this manual, I’d quickly become irritated with its tone, chuck it aside, and proceed to figure the software out all by myself.

  3. I, too think the manual’s tone is a little over the top, but I’d love to play with a copy of the program. A lot of young techies would probably like the tone.

    I try to write user instructions in the “coaching” tone I’d use if I were standing behind the user telling them what to do next. But older, less tech-savvy users, anxious at having to learn a new application, would be aggravated if that “coach” tried too hard to be a comedian!

  4. […] there a place for humor and friendly chat in […]

  5. […] Humor and friendly chat: See post and example: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/humor-and-friendly-chatin-user-documentation/ […]

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