Can anyone follow instructions?

Over two years ago I asked if people follow written instructions.

I thought that whether they did or not was related to their learning style.

Today, I would have to say that most people just don’t bother.

I feel like all I’ve done recently is write detailed instructions only to have the person write back and ask me questions that were answered in the instructions. Not that I don’t enjoy saying the same thing over and over and over again but, really, make some effort rather than expecting others to do ALL of your work for you. I even try to say the same thing in different ways and often include an attached document with pretty pictures.

How about instead of saying “the instructions didn’t work” say “step #6 confused me, could you please clarify that?”

I have a kid and I often have to say the same thing to her over and over. But, she is 8.

We all need help at times but sometimes we need to help ourselves.

photo credit: jewels g is for grandma

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  1. says

    Kim, over the past couple of years I have very much enjoyed your posts and appreciate your efforts at helping others AT NO CHARGE.

    At some point you should ask yourself which people are worth responding to. Should you devote yet additional time to assist someone who is using your knowledge for their own gain at no expense? There is a limit to patience, and you seem to have reached yours. Kudos!

    If someone needs additional clarification, offer to start a business relationship. Send them an invoice for a retainer.

    I, for one, appreciate all you’ve done and continue to do. You are not taken for granted, not by me. Thank you for everything!

    • says

      Hi Charity – Thanks!

      I should have made it clear that in this instance I wasn’t referring to any of my articles here. This is related to paid for work – I’m just getting frustrated that when I take the time to write out detailed step by step instructions that people aren’t bothering to read them and choose to send me emails instead.

  2. says


    This is one of the most frustrating things and I do think it is getting worse. I’ve done several projects over the last six months that involv ed some clients who had me pulling my hair out! It’s like, “Excuse me, but did you not even read the freakin’ email I sent?!!” I’ve either had to ask for the same information again, or try and gently ask them to please see the previous email.

    Unfortunately, it’s not just clients. I’ll see the same thing in personal emails as well. At first, I would go to scroll down to the original to make sure I hadn’t goofed and always – always the answer is right there. Oy.

    I guess maybe the good old days of telephone calls had some advantages.


    • says

      Hi George – Maybe the telephone would be better. Personally, I don’t like getting instructions that way because my notes make less sense to me than the email instructions do.

      I’m just having a broken record kind of week – I’m saying the same thing in 10 different ways …

  3. says

    I have to admit, if I think I know what I’m doing, I don’t read the instructions unless I get confused (which does happen more often than I like)>

    However, if I don’t have a clue, the written directions are my first stop.

    Thanks for all your great info, Kim. I may not comment often, but I do read you in my RSS feed. :)

  4. says

    Related, want to know how many times people ask me for my phone number after I email them — despite my phone number in the bottom of that email?

    • says

      Hi Ari – That one happens all the time. Or people want me to send them something from an email months ago – I always think “search through your own messages rather than asking me to do it”

  5. says

    LOL! I can totally relate! I’m a systems admin and from time to time have to write detailed instructions for people to follow. But what kills me is when they come back and says this or that doesn’t work and I ask them if they read the instructions… they usually look at me with a dumb, blank stare.

    Sometime I just feel like screaming “RTFM!!!”

  6. Paul Rowe says

    I understand your frustration. It seems to me like people don’t listen either. They will only read or listen to something they have specifically asked for. It is fundamentally a narcissism.

    I think a lot of it is the schools. The main thing for success is to pay attention to the teacher, not when he or she is teaching, but when he or she is telling you how to get and maintain approval of the teacher & school. Compliance takes precedence over knowledge and (hyper-) vigilance over curiosity and learning. Success comes through social engineering more than basic ability. And so that’s what we get: socially attentive people anxious to please who don’t know much and don’t pay attention. Sorry for the cynicism. There’s a lot of it in my life these days.

    Thanks for the blog. I got here through your solution to the feed fetch caching problem. I read it with great interest and got much benefit, so at least one person has read and understood what you wrote.

    • says

      Hi Paul – I do agree that the public school system is more interested in conformity than education. Look how often a kid who is “different” is labeled as a troublemaker. Maybe that’s why people can’t follow directions – I do think it really depends on the person.

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