Bloated Docs: Identifying What's Useful

Subject: Bloated Docs: Identifying What's Useful
From: DoughtyTechWriter Mordant <doughtytechwriter -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 23 Feb 2012 16:57:13 -0800 (PST)

Hello, everyone. Doughtytechwriter here with a question about figuring out what user guide info is useful.

Situation: My company has mature, highly technical products. For many years, the company hired contract technical writers only as a need was perceived. They patched up the existing documents and were then let go. The manuals now are inconsistent in style, scope and organization. They have also ballooned in size and many people think a lot of the information is overkill that no one uses.

I am the first full-time writer and am trying to pull things into shape. I want to do a content survey to find out which parts of the existing documents are useful for our clients.

Situation:

1. My boss understands and supports my content survey.

2. My boss will allow me to go on local client visits and ask questions.

3. I'm also allowed to use SurveyMonkey.

4. Our installed client base is world-wide and our documents are translated into 14 languages. I'd like to learn about preferences of our clients around the world, but I won't be getting on an airplane any time soon.

How would you go about figuring out what content to keep and what to toss? How do you find out what end users actually find helpful?

Thanks for all ideas and suggestions.

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