Usability study?

Subject: Usability study?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 01 Dec 2004 12:16:37 -0500

Lyndsey Amott reports: <<My client has asked me to write a usability review of their online help and their paper documentation. So far I have about 40 pages describing all the things that are problematic with the help and the docs. I have been careful to talk about industry standards and why the problems are problems, but because the review focuses on negatives, I fear that the reaction to it will be unpleasant.>>

Speaking as an editor, I can say that this problem isn't limited to usability reviews. There are a few standard techniques for "softening the blow":

- Start with positive comments: Tell them what they did right and what they should continue doing. Consider making this part of an executive summary that emphasizes the positive, then mentions that you've also included a detailed list of proposed changes to satisfy their request for a thorough critique.

- Create a gentle transition: "Since you asked me to highlight problems, here are some things that don't meet the high standards of the rest of your documentation..."

- Justify your criticisms: You've already referred to "standards", but explaining why something is a problem helps enormously even when there are no standards.

- If a problem can be solved simply (e.g., by a single search and replace), state the problem once rather than once per occurrence; this can potentially eliminate dozens or even hundreds of additional edits or critiques. Of course, someone has to take responsibility for finding all instances of the problem you've raised. Some editorial colleagues use the "highlighter pen" feature in Word to identify each occurrence of a problem, thereby making it harder to miss them.

- Offer solutions, not criticisms: "Here's the problem. Here are two ways to fix it. If none of these work, drop me a line and let's discuss alternatives." This also reinforces the concept that editorial and other reviews should be collaborative, not something delivered from a position of superiority.

- Remember the magic word(s): "Please" and other polite filler words are hard to overuse. They reinforce the notion that you are requesting rather than demanding a change and again, focus on collaboration rather than imposing changes.

- Conclude on a positive note: "I know that this seems to be a particularly critical review, but as you'll note from my suggestions, most of the problems are minor and easy to solve. By paying attention to the solutions, you can avoid the problems in the future and simplify future reviews. Moreover, as noted from the initial pages of positive comments, it's clear that you have a strong foundation on which to build."

--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)



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usability study: From: lyndsey . amott

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