Computers, gadgets and domestic appliances may be getting easier to use, but most of us still rely on a manual of some kind to get us started. So there are few things more frustrating discovering that you’ve misplaced one when you need to find out how to use a particular feature.
Fortunately, help is always at hand online. So if you’ve long since lost a manual, or just want to know how to do something that a manual doesn’t make clear, here are a few alternative solutions.
Before you start
It always helps to know what you’re searching for, so make a note of the product model number before you turn to your computer. This will usually be printed on the box and on a (usually difficult to access) part of the product itself, but make sure you get the full product name.
Epson many make inkjet printers and Samsung LED HDTVs, for example, but both provide much more detail than that. So if you need the manual for an ‘Epson Expression Photo XP-750’ or ‘Samsung Series 5 H5510’, that’s what you’ll need to search for.
Start at the manufacturer’s website
The first port of call for a missing manual should always be the original manufacturer’s website. Most have customer support sections with downloads of all kinds, including digital copies of user manuals.
You might have to do a bit of digging on some sites and make use of the search function to find what you want, but it’s rare to find nothing for products that are relatively recent.
Try a Google search
Some web sites can be all but unusable when it comes to finding information for a particular product, but you can usually shortcut the painful process with a Google search.
You might need a little lateral thinking here, since one manufacturers ‘user manual’ might be another’s ‘operating instructions’, although Google is usually pretty good at knowing what you want even when you’re using different words.
Don’t forget that you can also use Google to search within a site by appending “site:site-name” after the term your searching for, for example:
manual download site:www.panasonic.eu
Find a manual manually
Many manuals were around long before the web and so digital copies can be hard to come by — at least through official channels. Thankfully, quite a few foresighted people have scanned countless printed manuals and made them available online, so you just know where to look.
A Google search will often lead you to one of these manual sites, but some worth looking at directly are:
You’ll be surprised at what you can find on these sites. Manuals aren’t just limited to computer equipment, but anything that needed instructions of some sort, from clock radios to washing machines.
Don’t forget the forums
If someone uses something, the chances are that there’s a special interest forum for it, either dedicated to that particular product or as part of a wider forum (such as flashlights or beauty products). No niche is too narrow for these kinds of forums, but you’ll probably need to spend some time searching to find something relevant.
Many forums have a ‘sticky’ thread at the top of the list of messages to give answers to commonly asked questions, so make sure you read this before asking for help.
Even then, you run the risk of getting ‘RTFM’ in reply (short for ‘read the flipping manual’), so always make it clear in any message you post that a) you’ve lost the manual and b) you’ve already searched both the forum and the web for the information you need, with no results. And make sure you have, too, because someone will always catch you out and refuse to help as a result…