Re: Bloated Docs: Identifying What's Useful

Subject: Re: Bloated Docs: Identifying What's Useful
From: Wolfgang Schapat <wolfgang -dot- schapat -at- t-online -dot- de>
To: DoughtyTechWriter Mordant <doughtytechwriter -at- yahoo -dot- com>, "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 24 Feb 2012 10:42:26 +0100

Hello, everyone.
In this situation you can do the following:
I assume all content of the documents are valid and under some circumstances necessary to use the product. First of all, identify the purpose of each existing single document e.g. Using, Maintenance, Repair, Technical data, Spare part list etc. Then use mind mapping software e.g. mindmap for the next steps.

a) Use the "purpose of each document" to build a "mind map" by extracting the headlines (designator) of each chapter, subchapter, paragraph, clause etc. in that document. Do this with each document. (If the documents are MS-Word based, it's done automatically by mindmap)
b) The result will be a set of "mind maps" for the whole documentation as tree structures based on designators, now called topics.
c) Now put all "mind maps" into one "mind map"
d) Next step, arrange all topics on hirarchy levels based on the purpose and in each case the topmost chapter(s) ahead.
e) Now you have an hierarchical and sorted tree structure of all content levels (topics) of all your documents. This result may be insufficient for the user of the documents AND inadequately for using the product too.

Now reinterpret the "mind map" by using the designators as guide for your understandig. First of all you will see topics with the same meaning but different designators, or designators as sentence instead of single words, designators using singular or plural, designators using active or passiv etc. This all is confusing the user of the documents and you too. This must be corrected in a well-defined manner. This has to be done before you change or add any content to the existing documentation.

I have this done some years ago for an "operating manual" with approx. 2,000 pages which results in a "new" operating manual with 100 pages. No content were written new, the order was changed and all content not dealing with operating omitted. I assume you will find the same in your documents.

At 01:57 24.02.2012, DoughtyTechWriter Mordant wrote:

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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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Create and publish documentation through multiple channels with Doc-To-Help. Choose your authoring formats and get any output you may need.

Try Doc-To-Help, now with MS SharePoint integration, free for 30-days.

http://bit.ly/doc-to-help

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References:
Bloated Docs: Identifying What's Useful: From: DoughtyTechWriter Mordant

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