The secrets of user compliance – why users ignore instructions

As professional technical communicators, we make an effort to create clear, thorough instructions for our users so that they can use our products safely and effectively. But despite our best efforts, our clear instructions and careful warnings are often ignored. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?

Text by Leah Guren


The secrets of user compliance – why users ignore instructions

Image: © selimaksan/

Whether or not your users do what you want them to do is known as user compliance. And, in what may be no surprise, it turns out that user compliance is a complex variable affected by many different external and internal forces.

For example, an event I like to call The Great Venezuelan Rabbit Plan appeared in the news last year. President Nicolás Maduro came up with a plan to give baby rabbits to 15 communities. The idea was that rabbits are easy to raise and breed, and could provide an inexpensive source of protein to counter food shortages. After a few months, the minister of urban agriculture visited the communities to see how they were progressing. To his dismay, he found the people had named their rabbits, put bows on them, and brought them inside to sleep in their beds. They had, in fact, turned the rabbits into pets rather than nutritious dinners! The problem, the minister ...