RE: Just do it

Subject: RE: Just do it
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: techwr-l digest recipients <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 07 Sep 2000 10:33:41 -0700

"Giordano, Connie" <Connie -dot- Giordano -at- FMR -dot- COM> wrote:

>Some of the posters hit it on the head, if you have no other method to get
>feedback, try a survey, but don't be surprised if you get no response, or
>very little useful feedback. [snip] A pretty self-addressed stamped envelope with scaled
>questions just isn't a substitute for research and experimentation.

I'm fairly skeptical of surveys myself, especially those sent to
a general audience. While you can sometimes get surprises, most
of what you get from the uninformed is an uninformed response. If
people don't have much interest in a subject, their responses
reflect the fact. Moreover, anyone who's done tech-support can
tell you that many people are unobservant enough to swear that
they are doing one thing when direct observation or patient
questioning shows that they are really doing another.

More importantly, many people don't know how to make a useful
response. In the free software and open source movements, this
truism has lead to some very detailed explanations of how to
write a bug report so that it is useful. Similarly, in teaching
reader response editing to university students, I had to explain
and give examples of responses that would help the writer to

In my experience, the most useful surveys do much the same thing,
not only using questions that are carefully designed, but also
giving examples of how to respond, and the level of detail that a
useful response needs. Even a simple request to "give examples"
is a small step in the right direction.These surveys still face
the problem that most people won't make the effort to respond (if
anything, they have more of the problem than other surveys, since
they require more effort), but at least the feedback they
generate can generally be used.

By contrast, scaled questions (as Connie suggests) are almost
useless. About all they are good for is a general overview of
problems. They lack specifics and show no way to correct any
Bruce Byfield, Outlaw Communications
Contributing Editor, Maximum Linux
bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com | Tel: 604.421.7189

"There's a bully in the alley: he'll do his worst,
There's a bully in the alley: he won't fear your curse,
There's a bully in the alley: get your boot in first,
That's what they tell us."
- Oyster Band, "Bully in the Alley"

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