Readability vs. usability in manuals

The new manual is harder to read – but easier to use.

This is the feedback a colleague tech writer got from one of his reviewers. The manual had previously had a lot of screenshots, so it was easy to follow along.

My colleague revamped it to use fewer screenshots, but more structured text. As a result, the new manual was deemed to be easier to navigate and more useful in a wider variety of use cases.

I thought the feedback is spot on: Unless I’m writing a tutorial where I specifically lead users by the hand, I’d always take usability over the sheer readability. Usability can ensure that users find it easy to navigate the manual and find the information that applies to their current need.