I was driving home on a beautiful summer evening when I saw the blue flashing lights behind me. I pulled over and got out my license and registration. The officer walked over to the driver’s side window and asked if I knew why I’d been pulled over. After I answered, “No, officer,” he said, “Do you know that your registration is expired?” I was surprised to hear that. I handed my registration to the officer and he said, “Your registration expired in July.” It was early August. So, yes, my registration had expired. The car was new (to me) in January. I had transferred the plates from the previous car that I owned. Even though I had paid to transfer the registration in January, it was still only valid until July. I had to pay to register the car again. The officer was nice enough to let me go with a warning, but told me that I should register the car as soon as possible. I could even do it online.
When I got home, I logged onto the Registry of Motor Vehicle’s website and found my way to the section where I could register my car. I was able to fill in most of the information relatively easily. I entered my driver’s license number, my plate type and my plate number. So far, so good. Then I got to the Renewal Fee field. I’m used to most retail websites that automatically fill in the price of whatever I am buying. However, if I wanted to register my car, I had to fill in the renewal fee myself. I scrolled up the page to see where I would find out the registry fee. I clicked on the link for the “prorated fee schedule.” After a little searching, I found that the registration fee was $50. I went back to the Renewal Fee field and plugged in 50. My registration wouldn’t go through and I got a message that read “Invalid Entry.” Huh? Did the prorated fee schedule not say that the fee was $50? I looked at the fee schedule again and it indeed said $50. Curious. So I tried entering 50 again and again and again. Then I tried it with the $ sign. Still no luck. What the heck? I was about to give up and except the fact that I may have to make a dreaded trip to the registry in person if I wanted to register my car and become a law abiding citizen again. I tried one more time and entered 50.00. That worked! The magic trick was to enter it out to two decimal places. I guess that should have occurred to me, right?
This experience showed me how important it is to give users specific and clearly written help information. If the error message had said, “The dollar amount must be entered to two decimal places,” then I would have been able to register my car without playing a guessing game as to what I needed to correctly enter. As the technical writer at Snowbound Software, my job is to make sure that our online help and documentation is as specific and well written as it can be. It needs to leave nothing for granted so that our users can install and use our products effortlessly. If you find that is not the case in our documentation, please let us know so that we can improve it by opening a support ticket at http://www.snowbnd.cpunderconstruction.com/support/support_wizard.html. I do not want anyone to suffer the frustration that I went through. Also, if you are a customer of Snowbound Software, and interested in giving us feedback to improve our manuals, you can take our survey: