Re: Documentation Feedback Form

Subject: Re: Documentation Feedback Form
From: beverly_robinson -at- datacard -dot- com
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 14 Sep 2007 10:34:52 -0500

In the Sept 13 digest, Zen asked about documentation feedback forms.

I include postal and e-mail addresses for comments, corrections, and
suggestions in all my user information deliverables. I can go months
without getting any mail at all, and the vast majority of the messages I do
get are technical questions about related products or equipment or
questions about ordering supplies, not comments on the documentation. I
send a stock response to such messages that tells the customer how to get
technical support.

We also have a feedback mechanism for our internal customer engineers. It
doesn't get much use, either. A year or so ago we did a formal survey of
the CEs, asking what they like and dislike about our service manuals. We
got a decent return rate, but many of the responses were contradictory
(surprise! different people use documentation in different ways).

And outside of my department, we send an Installation Report form with each
equipment shipment. The response rate is very low, and many of the reports
that are returned cite problems with the shipment. Does that mean that
these reports are returned only when there is a problem and that the other
96% of customers are happy as clams? It would be risky to make that

A long, long time ago I worked for a mainframe manufacturer that included a
postage-paid comment form in the back of each printed manual. Those forms
included a few customer satisfaction questions and a space for comments and
corrections. We were measured on the customer satisfaction questions but
again the number of returns was so low compared to the number of manuals in
the field that we didn't have much confidence in the validity of the data.

After a lifetime in technical writing, I've concluded that feedback forms
don't yield much useful information--but I still think our internal and
external customers need to be given the opportunity to report errors or
suggest improvements. You never know when a complaint about missing
information will lead to index improvements or changes in the way the
information is organized.

Surveys should, theoretically, yield valid information, but a good survey
conducted properly is expensive. I haven't heard of too many TW
organizations that have the kind of budget that supports an ongoing survey

Talking to help desk staff about missing information or sitting in on
training classes where manuals are used can yield useful information. Site
visits with real live users are even better, in my experience. That's where
I'd put my efforts.

Hope this helps, YMMV


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