This Goes Beyond Poor Grammar

One type of poor instruction has become the focus of my ire: Obvious directions masquerading as in-depth tutorials.

Confusing signNothing in the world can feel more infuriating, in the moment, than trying to adapt with poor instructions. I would rather have no instructions. When bad instructions are included in a package, it makes a frustrating situation worse. When the package is a digital item, like software or a plugin for a website, a case of poor instructions is at its representative worst.

Virtually Nothing, Even With Twice As Much

Are you confused?

One type of poor instruction has become the focus of my ire: Obvious directions masquerading as in-depth tutorials. The most glaring example of this devastating phenomenon can be seen in thematic tutorials that accompany premium WordPress themes.

In many cases, the themes are really intuitive and easy to manage. At least, this is the case when you have been installing themes on a content management system for a time. There are occasions, however, when a theme is cutting edge enough that it requires a tutorial.

That I have to read instructions to understand the avant-garde is not the issue.  I am happy to do it. Often times, the tuts come with screen shots to help the user follow the leader, as it were. However, there are too many instances when the screen shot does little more than annotate what the user is already viewing. The information overlaid on the screen shot only explains what the user is already seeing. It offers nothing about how to actually use the theme.

What we really have, then, is nothing more than a screen shot – sometimes, the screen shots are out-of-date with the current WordPress versions – to accompany the exact screen – I defer you to the previous interjection –  the user is already seeing.



The Translation Matrix

I know there are innumerable difficulties with translating instructions. Many theme developers are not native English speakers. While they have learned the syntax of code well enough to overlay their Photoshop creations, they are not well-versed in the nuances of our English language. That makes composing instructions a difficult task, at best. I appreciate this difficulty.

The expense of hiring a translator is significant. Just translating a small website of a few pages can cost several hundred dollars. Independent developers and graphic artists usually do not care to expend the resources, even if they are so stationed. That leaves the clearing house for the themes to either do the job or extend the line of the instruction fail.

The latter scenario usually prevails, sadly, when dealing with marketplaces, such as Creative Market or Envato. The quality of the work is usually not an issue. The poor quality of the instructions creates its own problems.

The Core To Resolve The Issue

Knowing the WordPress core makes a big difference, of course. It is a colossal waste of time, some times, to tear into the theme files and adjust their bootstrap to suit one’s needs. Many folks who buy these themes are independent website owners, unaware of the travails that may await them with a powerful and sophisticated theme.

Read the comment threads on the marketplace sales pages or scan the plethora of comments or questions posed in the theme creators’ support pages. Among the comments and obvious straw compliments you will find the real issues confronting those who buy the themes and try to configure them.

All too often the issue is not that the theme is beyond the intelligence of people. It is that the instructions are wholly inadequate to help the novice or intermediate WP user – sometimes the skill level is higher than that – make sense of the more sophisticated themes and their associated custom codes.

Digging into the core files works for someone who knows the code, but for those buying a theme to install without professional help, there could be configuration trouble awaiting.

Read the Q&A, Not The FAQ

I am not saying you should not read the frequent questions section of any theme producer’s page, but keep in mind they are the ones offering up the questions they think you will want answered. In the case of a developer who does not know how to craft a tutorial at all, this is going to be a problematic engagement. It will reveal the obvious, just like the aforementioned annotated instruction manual.

The real questions you will have, those you are not yet aware you will have, are on the support pages and in the comments sections. When you read through that batch of material, you will know whether the theme is worthwhile or a digital nightmare.

Nobody rests easy when their website is malfunctioning. As a developer, myself, I wake up very early in the morning worrying about making my clients’ sites function well for their respective businesses. However, if you are a blogger or small business that has little financial wiggle room, spending money on a developer is likely not in the budget. That means spending the money on a good theme, one that does not seem to perturb its buyers, becomes all the more paramount.

Reading what those buyers have to say about the ease of installation and configuration, plus the quality of the support, afterward, will spare you great grief tomorrow for that small investment of time today.


About the Author

Danny Pryor is a media, website and content developer based in Fort Lauderdale. He produces websites, video and other digital media through his company, Rodan Media, and is the executive director of the travel website,, which he co-owns with his business partners. Danny began website development in 2000, while working with Scoop Magazine, in Fort Lauderdale. His media and broadcasting career dates to 1988, when he began working in news radio, in Las Vegas. He has two awards from the Florida Associated Press, for Best Individual Achievement and for Best Spot News, for his radio news coverage of events in Miami, during 1992.

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