- Tebeaux, Elizabeth. (2010) ‘Safety Warnings in Tractor Operation Manuals, 1920-1980: Manuals and Warnings Don’t Always Work’, J. Technical Writing And Communication, Vol. 40(1) 3-28.
Tebeaux’s research discusses the unfortunate phenomena of Tractor Operation Manuals, which is their unfortunate habit of going unread regardless of the safety warnings. Different approaches have been attempted since the 1920s, ranging from implied warnings to cartoon animations detailing the potential dangers of tractors, yet sustained deaths and injuries remain a critical problem. Possibly as a result of the farmer culture, which emphasizes efficiency and hands-on learning. While these are traits commonly held in high esteem by farmers, they become very dangerous regarding the disillusionment with directions.
To avoid liability suits, manufacturers have begun making the tractors as error-proof as possible to avoid wrongful death, yet accidents continue to occur. As a technical communicator, I read the premise and genuinely had no solutions to offer. The instruction manuals for these tractors are good quality, but it hasn’t made a difference. The article did a good job stressing one of the more disappointing aspects of being a writer; sometimes the work will not be appreciated by the intended audience regardless of the quality. It seems tractor companies need to work in greater depth with technical writers to evaluate what can be done about the disillusionment with instructions, then work to cater to their demographic.