Re: know your ... who?

Subject: Re: know your ... who?
From: "Paul Goble" <pgcommunication -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2008 11:38:31 -0700

Kevin <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com> wrote:
> On the days when I need a break from the techy stuff, it amuses me to
> wonder how I would go about knowing them.

I face similar (but less severe) challenges, but I've always been able
to find some way to get to know my readers.

Do your readers, or subpopulations of your readers, have *anything* in
common with each other? If so, there are probably magazines, web
sites, clubs, or email lists dedicated to that common interest. You
could even search for readers (or people you think are similar to your
readers) on social networking sites.

With a corpus of information like this, I can usually find the answers
to at least a few questions, such as: What terminology does this
group of people use to talk about my product (or similar products)?
What questions are they asking, which might indicate their level of
understanding? What other characteristics might they share in common,
which could lead to more information resources? What is important to
them: Going home on time? Looking good to the boss?

Does your company have competitors who DO get to know their customers?
You can use this to help justify your research. But you can also
watch what changes they are making in their products and
documentation, and try to reverse-engineer their reasoning. For
example, if they are adding animated demos to their online help,
perhaps there is some characteristic of the customer population which
motivated that change. If they are deleting certain kinds of
information, perhaps they have found that customers do not need (or
simply do not use) that kind of information.

> I do not have a travel allowance.

Find those who do have a travel budget, and offer to help them. Maybe
you can help staff a booth at a trade show, or help conduct training,
or visit the site of a dissatisfied customer.

You could also volunteer to staff a tech support phone line once in a while.

You could try an efficiency angle: "By learning more about my readers,
I expect to identify aspects of our documentation which could be
streamlined or eliminated, thereby giving me capacity to document more
products or features and increasing our company's profit."

By the way, if your company doesn't value your work enough to spend
$n,nnn to help you make your work product better, I'd worry whether
they value your work enough to continue paying $nn,nnn to keep you on
the payroll. Time for some internal marketing.

> We don't have the types of product that are conducive to just borrowing
> people off the street (or out of school) to act as documentation

It's amazing how effective temp agencies are at finding people who
match a very specific profile. Quite a few techies are registered
with temp agencies for "an hour here, an hour there, once or twice a
year" gigs, so they can make a few extra bucks participating in
usability tests and focus groups.

Paul Goble

Create HTML or Microsoft Word content and convert to Help file formats or
printed documentation. Features include support for Windows Vista & 2007
Microsoft Office, team authoring, plus more.

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know your ... who?: From: McLauchlan, Kevin

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