How IKEA Manuals Inspired My Interest in Technical Writing

Yesterday, all around e-learning superstar Zsolt Olah posted an article on LinkedIn titled Read Only If You Know What’s In The Picture. This article sparked an interesting revelation (for me and others who know me) on Twitter, and I’m a lady of my words. This blog post will explain how IKEA manuals inspired my interest in technical writing.

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Well before I knew that Instructional Design was a role that existed, I was working through my undergraduate degree with a double major in Linguistics and Psychology. My end goal was to go to grad school and become a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), but if that went south I had found an interest in technical writing…from my horrible experience with IKEA how-to manuals.

I joke that my husband and I never argue…unless we’re hanging something or putting together furniture, and it’s very true. When we bought our house, we had a friend come over for several weekends to mediate our furniture construction…or we probably would have killed each other.

In any event, my interest in technical writing came after a particularly trying IKEA order arrived. We ordered two desks, a coffee table, and two end tables. The tables were pretty straight forward, but the directions for the desks just didn’t make sense. In Zsolt’s post, I’m usually a C person. I’ll consider the A and B options, but typically I jump right to the manual and just get it done. Even if that means I have to take something apart and rebuild it.

The how-to manual for these particular desks was not accurate. No matter how closely we followed the manual, the desks were not coming together like they did in the images. The desks did not have all of the holes indicated in the images. The desks were the bane of my existence. I’m sure I cried. We somehow ended up getting them together (how, I don’t remember, because I’ve blocked out the trauma), and they were our desks from that point until we bought our house years later, when they were one of the first things we put out on the curb for garbage day.

Because of how awful and inaccurate the how-to manuals were for those desks, I vowed that I could write a better user manual, and began researching how one becomes the person to write such manuals. In my research, I discovered technical writing as a career path, and when I didn’t get in to grad school for SLP, I stumbled into my first Instructional Design gig. It was here that I discovered I didn’t necessarily want to write how-to manuals for the rest of my life, but I did occasionally get my taste of writing user guides and have since written two books that are essentially user guides.

In the end, I’m very happy that IKEA manuals prompted my interest in technical writing as I may never have found a passion for Instructional Design and E-Learning Development.

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