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About 10 yrs ago I did a couple surveys as part of my MA, surveying both those who create and those who use documentation. Summary:
With the proliferation of software that offers DTP capabilities basic page design is now applied to most documentation.
Most documentation (60%) was not produced by a technical writer.
In 70% of cases no user analysis is performed before the documentation is produced.
Testing the documentation usually takes place as part of product beta-testing. In 40% of cases there is no (formal) testing of the documentation at all.
The majority of respondents (60%) felt that the documentation could be improved by having it professionally written and designed.
When asked to rate the importance of the docs (1=V important to 10=we have to provide some!), most were in the 1-4 range with only one 10 (I guess they were in a very niche market!)
The overall feeling is that documentation is generally usable but that it varies greatly from product to product - no real consistency across the board.
A âbadâ experience with the documentation is likely (90% of users) to put the user off using it again (and docs in general).
Users (58%) prefer hard-copy documentation. If it is online then it is often printed out to read/use.
Very few users always read the documentation. The general response was that âit depends on the productâ or âonly when Iâm stuckâ.
Most users (65%) see the documentations as an integral part of the product. Poor documentation therefore reflects badly on the product as well.
The âlook and feelâ of the documentation is important. Documentation that is well presented is more likely to be read.
Documentation varies greatly from product to product. While documentation was seen as being usable, in almost 25% of cases it was deemed to have inaccuracies and be irrelevant. In over 50% of cases it was deemed to be incomplete.
Hopefully things have moved on from then but sometimes I wonder! :-)
Sr. Technical Writer
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