Re: Just do it (Long & Occasionally Sarcastic)
For a survey to be of any statistical value it must be scientific. That is, it
must poll a representative cross-section of the intended audience, the
participants must reply honestly, and the whole process should use a control
I'm not sure this applies to this situation. I don't think you need a statistically perfect survey to get good feedback. The point isn't to publish any great journal article, but to get feedback on your one manual.
I'd say that even if only 5 people answer and only one of them mentions that they found it difficult to find something they wanted to know, or they wish there was more detail on procedure #7, or that he doesn't think his particular situation was well-addressed.... well, that's all I need. I'll take the feedback, look back through and see if they've made a good point. If they have, it seems like the survey was useful.
The point isn't to get a perfect representation of the audience and make some sort of democratically voted-upon manual. (Let's see... only 40% wanted chapter 4, so I think I'll remove it) It's just feedback. Take it with a grain of salt and see if it makes sense. Sort of like your editor's comments. ;)
I am not advocating ignoring the users needs. Quite the contrary. I am
advocating BECOMING a user yourself so you have a personal understanding of
what the user/reader needs and wants.
But everyone is different. Some people like to read manuals cover-to-cover before ever plugging their toaster in, while other people only go to the manual once the toaster's started to burn down their kitchen. I try to put myself in their shoes, but face it -- people are just plain weird. Humans are all different and all crazy, and chances are there's a bunch that don't see anything the way I do.
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