Re: User Questionnaire

Subject: Re: User Questionnaire
From: "Domaschuk, Rob" <Robd -at- datalogics -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 4 Oct 2001 08:47:39 -0500

Hi Barbara,

In my last role as a "User Experience Architect", I did a lot of this. Here
are a few things I've learned that I use in my tech writing life:

1. Observations beat questionnaires every time - when you can do them. How
people SAY they work is not always accurate. Only observing them will
identify this. A perfect example is the whole Fat-Free product craze in the
'90s. Everyone said they wanted fat-free food, but when CPG companies
started producing it, it never sold, because people weren't prepared to
switch from their regular foods. If you can visit a few users (even two or
three will help), then do it. IMHO, I'd rather visit three people and watch
them work (unobtrusively) than get questionnaires back from 200 people. I
can see things that I would never pick up in a questionnaire, such as their
physical environment (are my docs laid out in such a way that they are easy
to read in the context of a phone that rings 50 times a day, poor or
lighting, private cubes vs. open desks, etc.). I can also see how they are
using the product (great feedback for the development team) and how they
my document (do they really want training manuals when I have been giving
them reference manuals?). Be prepared for almost anything, and this can be
very humbling!

So, if you can go out and meet a few people, go for it (this is often
cheaper than a full-fledged questionnaire). Take an instant camera to
your observations (remembering that you may need to sign their NDA
[non-disclosure agreement]). Krug's book, "Don't Make Me Think" has some
great ideas here (and it is fun to read).

2. I like to find out how often they use my product/application. If it is
once a year because I sell the world's best year-end accounting package,
then I know I need to create a different doc type than for someone who is
using my world's best order-entry system 100 times each day. (This is an
example, my company doesn't create either).

3. As for specific questions, focus on the parts of your product that will
help/hinder/change the way they work. If you are really interested in
education levels, get some job descriptions (if possible) from your users'
HR departments - or ask what the minimum education level is for the
position. If somebody who never completed high school sneaked into a
position that requires a Ph.D. in Astro-Nuclear Physics, they probably
wouldn't give you an honest answer anyway. Besides, education doesn't
necessarily equal aptitude.

4. Be aware that someone could potentially lose their job if a company uses
your product(it has happened). Be prepared for that answer on your

Okay, finally (and most importantly) have fun! You are doing something that
a lot of people never get the chance to do. It is a wonderful opportunity
that will carry a lot of learning for your whole company.

Just one person's opinion....

Rob Domaschuk
Technical Writer, Datalogics inc.
312.853.8337 - t
810.958.2937 - f

"I hear it in the deep heart's core."
- W.B. Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innisfree


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