Re: FAQs

Subject: Re: FAQs
From: Dick Margulis <margulisd -at- comcast -dot- net>
To: Diane Boos <dianeboos -at- comcast -dot- net>
Date: Mon, 15 May 2006 16:30:57 -0400

Diane Boos wrote:

Increasingly companies are directing you to web sites for their documentation or the answers to your questions. Many times, you don't have traditional documentation. All you have access to is what is online or id in help. So when end users are directed to FAQs, how many find the answers? How many search like I did and give up?

To me it could be more than a question about "documentation" but effectiveness of an accepted technique. How many technical writers and managers assume that FAQ are effective because it's an accepted communication technique? So do we know or do we have any stats relating to FAQ and thier effectiveness?

Frankly, speaking from my current very frustated viewpoint, I doubt I'll every use another FAQ site.

Here's a thought: Pretty much everyone in the world at the point of needing assistance with software share the common experience of reading conventionally organized books. TOC, chapters, index. I can do that.

Now we come to this magical new world of online user interface design. Just among us tech writers, not sharing this with the whole world out there, we know that actual testing of UI designs often gets lip service but rarely gets funding. However, let's go with the fiction that UIs are designed according to tested principles.

How does that testing go? Seventy-two percent of users were able to find the frammis button within thirty seconds. Check. Sixty-five percent of respondents thought the interface was not too crowded and confusing. Check. Majority rules. Ship it.

But that leaves a huge percentage of people who do NOT find the interface satisfactory and start looking for help to find the control that's probably right in front of them but not anywhere obvious (to them, anyway). Then they find neither a proper TOC listing chapters nor an index that looks like a book index and they get even more confused. They they search for a phone number, find one if they're lucky, and, after another couple of hours, finally find someone who can tell them to look at the lower right corner of the window and find the green dot. Compared with the small number of people who have trouble finding the TOC in a book, we're talking at least an order of magnitude of difference in dissatisfaction rates. And that's for the good UIs.

I think we're deluding ourselves if we maintain that an idiosyncratic UI can ever achieve the same success rate in terms of users finding what they're looking for as books routinely achieve.

My two cents,

floggin' his bloggin' at


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Re: FAQs: From: Diane Boos

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