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Sounding Off

Manual Madness Roland Reply

Gary Checora of Roland Japan puts forward his views on the state of equipment manuals.

This month's 'Sounding Off' is given over to a letter we received from Gary Checora, part of a team of writers and editors who make up the Operation Manual Section of Roland Corporation, Japan. It is their task to produce the many and varied owner's manuals and operating guides for all Roland equipment. As Gary's letter provides a rare insight into the workings of this division, we thought it fair to provide a 'right to reply' to Roger Jackson's critique of manuals in our April edition 'Sounding Off'.

I would like to take this opportunity to respond to Mr Jackson's editorial, 'Manual Madness', which appeared in the April edition (Vol 5 Issue 6) of Sound On Sound. Let me preface my comments by saying that I am a native speaker of English (from Canada) and that I have recently joined the writing staff at Roland Japan. My intent with this letter is not to counter Mr. Jackson's comments per se, but rather to perhaps offer some insight from the 'inside'.

We at Roland (and those of us in the Operation Manual Section particularly) are extremely aware of the current state of our operation manuals, and the state of operation manuals generally. There can be no denying that there are serious problems with the current methods of manual production. Hardly a day goes by that we are not in some way reminded of their shortcomings or inadequacies. Our writing staff are housed in Roland's main factory in central Japan, so we do not have direct contact with end users. However, we do become aware of user's complaints through our overseas sales/distribution affiliates and articles/editorials which appear in various trade publications. And as they say, recognition of a problem is the first step to reform.

Mr. Jackson was kind enough to acknowledge some of the difficulties in writing operation manuals. But if I may, I'd like to add a couple more points to the list. The intent here is simply to bring to light certain realities of the task.

Of course, the most obvious difficulty lies within translation from the original Japanese text. The main challenge within any translation work is trying to establish the author's intent and then expressing that intent with the proper nuance. However, with the Japanese language, there is an integral cultural component which must also be considered. This situation arises because Japanese thought processes, and ways of expressing those thoughts, are quite different from those of Occidentals. Because of the nature of the culture, the Japanese tend to think (and express themselves) in much more general or seemingly vague terms. By comparison, Westerners tend to be direct and frank. Consequently, any manual which is simply a literal translation of the original text results in an 'English' document which is largely unintelligible. When translating from Japanese, we must consider that any perceived ambiguity is not inherent in the language itself, but rather in the way the language is used.

One of the main constraints for manual writers (indeed, writers in any field) is time, or rather, lack of time. Very often we work with pre-production or prototype models, which in itself is a challenge, and those difficulties are only compounded by the need to meet a deadline. In an industry in which timing is critical, this factor cannot be overstated.

In another area we have, over the past year or two, witnessed a new phenomenon which can be directly linked to advancements in technology. Quite simply, as technology advances (and prices drop) more and more people are becoming involved with making music. This has led to a situation in which non-musicians, those without any previous musical experience, are beginning to buy our professional products. This brings us to the problem — how to provide documentation which is suitable for both the professional musician and the complete novice. We are currently studying this situation and are making every effort to address the problem.

Mr. Jackson provided an excellent list of suggestions in his editorial. I am pleased to report that Roland was already well on its way in all of the areas listed. We therefore hope to be producing manuals and guides which represent a significant improvement over previous efforts. Please be aware, however, that progress does take time.

In closing, I would just like to say that we are well aware of the many problems which exist and that we are working to correct them. We fully recognise the importance of well written manuals and how they impact the end users of our products. It is our intent to provide documentation which is thorough, easily understood, and ultimately useful. Our short-term goal is to create manuals which are 'transparent', if you will, serving as windows rather than barriers. Roland's long-term goal is to produce 'manualess' products — those which have a completely intuitive user interface and therefore will require little or no documentation.

Roland customers have always been our raison d'etre and we are working to better serve your needs. Your patience and continued support is greatly appreciated by the entire staff here at Roland Japan.

Thank you.

Gary Checora
Operation Manual Section
Roland Corporation, Japan

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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Aug 1990

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Opinion by Gary Checora

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