Usability and role of tech writer?

Subject: Usability and role of tech writer?
From: smithelizabeth -at- hotmail -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2003 10:02:18 -0700

Hi everyone,

The software product I write online help and other documentation for has
undergone a change within Product Marketing. As a result, they do not seem
to think as highly of the product as the previous team, and have requested
a "usability audit." This is partially because although we have a web
-based application, the UNIX-based system is still an option. Fully 25% of
our customers still use the UNIX version, and this may be affecting sales.

I've been asked to provide a crude estimate of hours required to
review/audit the Help screens, which I gave at 500 hours. The team leader
for the front end estimated that for the other parts of the system, he'd
need to go through about 200 screens to do a comprehensive by
page. He estimated it would take about 7 hours per screen, on average, to
run an audit. Some would take minutes, while others would take hours, so
7 was the magic number. I've been asked to use similar logic with the
help screens, if possible.

However, I think that the interface itself needs a redesign (alignment,
color, proximity, typography is relatively amateurish). From my
perspective, you have to define what is "usable" before you know what you
have to do to enhance usability. At the very least, maybe checklists could
be used as a benchmark for comparison. I think part of the problem with
this audit is that no one provided a definition of what exactly
"usability" is, so we don't know what criteria to compare our product

I am really getting frustrated, especially since he haven't had a human
factors person in a couple years, and developers don?t seem to understand
what I mean about graphic design and usabililty. What should my role be?
I am very confused and would love advice on how to handle this situation.




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