RE: Academic Research in TechComm

Subject: RE: Academic Research in TechComm
From: "Tom Johnson" <tjohnson -at- freeway -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2005 12:19:54 -0500

Jim Shaeffer wrote:

"Further, if increases in perceived quality come with an increase in
cost, such a change effort may actually have a negative value to the

I agree we could get to a point of diminishing or negative returns.
Are we to that point yet? I don't think so. Whenever someone asks me
what I do for a living and I say I'm a technical writer, I almost
always get the response, "Oh, you write those manuals that nobody

I hope they haven't read mine. <g> It's not likely they have, but it
is an indictment against the industry. In general, manuals have a bad
reputation we have to overcome. It doesn't help that people don't read
them. I frequently see people struggling to assemble products without
reading the instructions. I remind them people get paid to write
manuals so maybe they should try reading them.

On the other hand, quality documentation can get people's attention.
As an example, Genie garage door openers have excellent instructions.
Small parts come in color-coded baggies that correspond to colors in
the instructions. Genie has made their instructions attractive and
easy to use. They've obviously put a lot of thought into information
design and graphics. I would have to imagine homeowners across the
country are telling their neighbors to buy a Genie door opener because
the instructions are so easy to use. For the record, I don't work for
Genie. I'm just a satisfied customer who recently installed an opener
and I've heard others comment on the quality of the instructions. The
word gets around when something good stands out from the crowd.

The trick is finding a way to quantify ROI. That would probably
involve a study on how manuals affect customer satisfaction. Then
someone would have to analyze the cost of improving quality vs.
customer satisfaction and on and on and on. How do you graph that? I
don't know.

I'd like to make four points:
One--Quantifying ROI won't be easy.
Two--All of us should explore best practices and make incremental
improvements to our documentation.
Three--We need to improve quality to overcome a bad reputation.
Four--Ultimately, quality counts.

Tom Johnson
Technical Writer
tjohnson -at- starcutter -dot- com


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