Friday, May 10, 2013

Instruction Clarity

The use of plain style finds a way to make writing more concise, readable, and easier to understand. These three things are very good things to have control over if one is writing for the good of a consumer. Most instruction manuals are written in variations of the plain style to make it easy for consumers to understand. I found an instruction manual from a game called “Rattle me Bones” made by Tyco in 1990 that uses the plain style very well throughout the entire explanation of setup and playing of the game. This game is intended for people ages 5 and up. Since children will be playing the game, they would presumably need to be able to interpret the instruction manual. Even if the instruction manual was written for a product intended for results, a similar use of the plain style would be used to ensure satisfaction with the product as well as making the manual short and concise and easy for the reader to quickly understand without having to re-read wordy passages. The plain style is used in this instruction manual to guarantee that people with very basic reading skills would be able to set up and play the game. This can be determined because of the simple step-by-step structure, short concise sentences, as well as a number of detailed pictures that can be understood by people without advanced reading skills.
            The parts of the manual that are the most plain in style are the “Label Application” and “Game Set-Up” sections. These are broken down into simple steps with pictures showing exactly what needs to be done. The simple plain style prose used here would not even need to be read by most game players because the pictures do a far better job at showing exactly what needs to be done. As far as the “Label Application” section, it would only need to be read one time as the labels are only added the first time that the game is taken out of the box. Seeing as the label section is only needed one time but is included with the rest of the instructions on the single page, I would guess that the instructions for this game were designed to fit onto the front of a single page in order to cut costs by being able to print each list of instructions on a single page requiring no folding, staples, or double sided printing. If the official style had been used to write this instruction manual, it would have been at least twice the length. Not only would it be more confusing for the general reader to understand, but it would increase the production cost costs for each sheet of instructions for each game.
Since this game is designed to be played by people from ages 5 and up, the grade level at which the manual reads should be around the first or second grade. While a majority of the sentences in the manual rate at the fourth or fifth grade level on a readability score calculator, the authors must have taken into account that younger players might be playing with somebody who would be able to read the instructions.  I would assume that five-year-olds in the beginning stages of learning how to read would need to have the rules read to them. While they might not be able to read some of the words, the plain style used in this manual does a good job at using words that non-readers can understand without additional explanation.
            When describing how to play the game, it lists the steps in order with numbers in front of each one. It says, “1. One player is selected to go first. Players go in turn in a clockwise direction. 2. The on-off lever on the game base is switched to the “on” position. 3. During each turn, the player spins the spinner to determine which game piece to remove from the skeleton. (If that piece has already been removed, the player has to remove a coin from the treasure chest. If no coins remain, the turn is over.) 4. The player then tries to remove the game piece as carefully as possible so as not to rattle the skeleton’s bones. 5. If successful, that player keeps the game piece and the turn is over. If unsuccessful, that player returns the game piece to the skeleton (as well as any pieces which may have ‘rattled’ off!) and that player’s turn is over. 6. The winner is the player with the most game pieces after all the pieces have been removed from the skeleton and treasure chest.” This entire game description is summed up in the size of a single paragraph. It is clear that they have made the instructions as simple as they thought they could. I did notice that there was use of parentheses in steps 3 and 5. The information in the parentheses further explains the steps and doesn’t really require to be in parentheses, but added length to the description without parentheses would imply complication. The author clearly wanted to keep it concise, and the use of parenthesis in these two steps are able to suggest that the information might have been considered common sense, but was still important enough to include in the instructions. The “who’s kicking whom” aspect of the plain style works well in this section of the  instruction manual because this allows the author to easily issue concise commands of what to do to the reader. Other styles might be less effective in terms of being able to tell someone what to do.
            Overall, instruction manuals for children’s’ games should be easy to understand and easy to remember so the game can be played at a future date without confusion or much reference back to the instruction manual. The plain style was chosen for this instruction manual because it was intended for people ages 5 and up. While the intentions might not have been to design an instruction manual that a five year old can read, the plain style makes the game easy to explain to these individuals without extra interpretation that would likely be needed if official or creative styles had been used. Another thing to consider when looking at instruction manuals in general is the use of plain style as a way to keep the manual smaller cut costs on printing the manuals for each game. That was probably the case here. Also, the plain style offers a simple way to relay commands in a step-by-step format. The importance of being clear and concise in this example was perhaps the biggest reason for the use of plain style in this example. 
By S.P. Michael

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