RE: Effectiveness of a document?

Subject: RE: Effectiveness of a document?
From: "Wilcox, Rose (ZB5646)" <Rose -dot- Wilcox -at- pinnaclewest -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 26 Feb 2002 15:32:28 -0700

Rohini Gogi wonders: <<I need your inputs on how you would measure the
effectiveness of a document against a set of parameters. What are the
parameters that would kind of certify a document?>>

And Geoff Hart ponders further:
<<We can't answer that until you define what you mean by effectiveness. In
way of thinking, which may not be yours, an effective document is one that
meets the needs of its readers. In that context, the only useful parameters
are those that express whether readers can understand a document well enough
to accomplish something (e.g., a series of tasks), and the only people who
can tell you whether these parameters are being met are the actual readers:
if they can complete the task, then the document is effective.>>

Which is only effective for task-oriented documents. Some documents provide
reference information or news that doesn't need to be acted upon
immediately. Some documents are created to meet the needs of the
communicator more than the needs of the reader (internal communications from
execs to workers, sales pitches). So basically, before we can measure the
effectiveness of a document, we must ascertain purpose *as well as

To further define "effectiveness", we need to know the purpose of the
measurements as well. Are we looking to establish technical writing's value
added to the organization perhaps to justify our existence to said
organization? Are we looking to measure relative effectiveness so we can
improve it? Are we trying to establish the value of documentation itself,
so that the organization can protect documents based on value?

If we are trying to "certify" documents, that implies an existing set of
standards created by an outside body. At the very least, if certification
is implied, one would want to have an accepted set of standards and
processes for documentation creation.

However, basic effectiveness can, as Geoff suggests be measured by user
testing. Failing that, standards such as
Standard formatting
Standard style and tone of writing

may be applied. Note that each of these would need to be further defined
before we could certify a document. For instance, would accuracy be based
on SME review or user hits against the document through a change control

Rose A. Wilcox
Project Office / Power Trading
Communication Specialist / Technical Writer
Rose -dot- Wilcox -at- PinnacleWest -dot- com

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