/ Technology

Do you miss the printed instruction booklet?

Big book leafed through by woman

These days more and more gadgets don’t come with printed instruction manuals, but I think that for certain gadgets nothing beats a handy paper guide you can refer to when needed.

The disappearance of printed manuals has happened fairly quickly, and I blame the CD.

Back in the early 90s a copy of (the then revolutionary) Microsoft Windows 3.1 came with a bible-sized tome – the 650-page “User guide” and the relatively lightweight “Getting started…” guide, itself stretching to a mere 96 sheets of densely-printed black and white text.

Had a problem with your Windows? The answer lurked somewhere within one of those guides. And although there were no internet help forums in those days, we survived – book open on the desk, flickering monitor in front. The acronym “RTFM” became commonplace, strongly encouraging people to turn to the user guide when stuck.

Then we took a giant leap forward. The box you brought home was somehow lighter, emptier, devoid of gravitas. The answers to your questions, the troubleshooters, the setup instructions – were all uprooted from their paper and crammed onto CD-Rom bundled in with the software.

This, of course, meant a whole new method of head-scratching. Now you had your troublesome software in one half of the screen, while you simultaneously read about how to fix it in the other.

Manuals missing from gadgets

But it’s not just about software – printed manuals are now disappearing from cameras, mobiles, printers etc. And if you are lucky enough to get one, only five of the pages are English with the other unwieldy 50 pages assuming you’re happy to make life a bit more interesting by reading the instructions in Polish, Czech or Swedish.

Other devices come with a quick start guide – perhaps a single sheet that optimistically attempts to summarise the workings of a gadget more technologically advanced than early spacecraft into perhaps 100 words and a couple of pictograms. Less is not always more.

There’s even a digital equivalent of the chicken and the egg conundrum. Need to know how to turn on your new ebook reader? The instructions are supplied as an ebook, stored on the reader itself. Admittedly e-reader’s aren’t the most complex of tech gadgets, but they’re perhaps not intuitive to all buyers.

Of course, the environmental argument is clearly against hefty printed manuals. But many of us, myself included, actually enjoy having a paper manual in front of us. Cameras, especially, encourage experimentation and having a booklet to browse is part of that experience.

Giving us a CD and expecting us to print off our own user manual is often both tiresome and even more wasteful of paper. But maybe you’re glad to see the back of good old fashioned printed instruction booklets?

Richard Jones says:
1 February 2011

I purchased a Canon All-in-one printer (MX870) which allows me to copy or scan without turning on my computer. However the LCD instructions are scant and in the end I have to resort to opening up the guide on my computer. This defeats the object of speed which is often required if I want a copy in a hurry. I contacted Canon about a manual and got the usual ‘trite’ answer that it is on the web. Useless Customer Service as usual. I now print off odd pages as required because the manual is hundreds of pages long. Another problem is that the words used for operations aren’t always those in normal use. i have to wade through pages/indexes to find the names used by the writer.

Mike Smith says:
2 February 2011

I purchased a Cannon Pwershot Sx 30 Camera for around £500 with only a limited “start-up” manual. I really needed a small paper manual but I had to print off a 195 page CD manual on single sided A4 paper and cart it to Cape Town. It’s crazy after paying that sort of money especially with the latest weight restrictions airlines are imposing.


We’ll be talking about this on the podcast, so your comments welcome! Podcast will be available Wednesday 9th February on the podcast page: which.co.uk/podcasts


My personal preference is for simple printed instructions and a detailed manual online. The electronic manual can be searched and the manufacturer can update it if necessary.

There would be less need to consult instructions if equipment was better designed. In many cases, simplicity is the best solution. We spend a fortune on complicated electronic gadgets but it is not surprising that a lot of the features go unused.

At work we have two microwave ovens on a kitchen worktop. One has simple rotary controls to set the time and power. The other has sophisticated digital controls and various programmes. Almost all the regular users choose the simple machine and I have seen few users who are confident with the more complex microwave oven.


There’s no substitute for the printed manual. Most people are able to read, but not everyone has a computer and those that do, do not all have internet access for online info. It’s easy to take a printed manual on holiday with you – less so a computer, and you can read a printed manual anywhere.


I’ve just purchased F-Secure
and the 1/4″ thick manual has every language under the sun in it, the actual user instructions are one page when you wade through the ‘aren’t we clever’ intro and it says, “insert the CD-ROM into your drive and install the program”, – it will then mentions it will update itself and the CD can be used as a boot disc.

In 35 languages

You want more?
pay for the download yourself then.

Thanks mates!

norogis says:
23 March 2011

I recently purchased a Samsung MP3 which supplied a minute booklet with equally minute printing
I spent an hour on their website trying to find a manual – without success. Customer service were polite and they supplied a link but I landed up on the website merry go round once again to no avail. A good magnifying glass and a bright light are now my tools. Thank goodness MP3’s are not as complex as a camera.

Carolyn Little says:
26 March 2011

I have done much research into buying a new point and shoot, but also discovered that an instruction manual—–included with the camera—–seems to be a thing of the past. I refuse to pay for the camera, only to have to waste ink and printing paper to print my own instructions. I do not even know how to go through the hundreds of point & shoot cameras out there to learn if any still come with instructions. I may just have to keep using my old Kodak Easy Share, which does have a nice, instruction manual. Any comments will be appreciated!

Marie says:
18 April 2011

My Blackberry mobile phone came with a small printed booklet to start me off. On line the instruction manual is over 200 pages long. So I saved and printed just the index and filed it. Now if what I am looking for is not in the booklet, I consult my printed index, note the page number and look at it on screen. This is all a big compromise and no matter how large a manual is, I would much prefer a printed version.