RE: Bloated Docs: Identifying What's Useful

Subject: RE: Bloated Docs: Identifying What's Useful
From: Alison Wyld <ajwyld -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 24 Feb 2012 10:19:21 +0100

A few thoughts to add to what everyone else is saying...

In this situation, you almost certainly have a bunch of duplication - and
worse almost-duplication where one or several instances are out of date....
Getting rid of it would be a big help - but finding it might be difficult.

You mention that the documents are translated. If the translation is being
done by any kind of professional organization, they probably have a
translation database (Trados or similar) in place and can probably help you
identify duplicated and almost-duplicated text... Years back, on a big
clean-up project we were able to cut volume by 30% just by getting rid of
the duplicates - which already makes things a bit more manageable.

As others have said, nothing substitutes for face-to-face input with users
- but in the real world, you don't have a travel budget. So a good second
best would be to do it on the phone. Maybe try to see some local users to
get a feel for the kind of things you want to follow up on - then do some
well structured over the phone interviews.

Although its tempting to say "the more the better" Nielsen did some work a
while back that seemed to indicate that you didn't need as many users as
you might think. (You can probably find the info on I did a
project a few years back where we asked 7 users to tell us about their 5
priorities for their documentation. I was afraid we would get an
unprioritizable list of 35 priorities. We didn't. We maybe got 10 - there
was a lot of convergence. Anyway, asking a manageable number of users to
tell you about the 7 most important things they need to do with the product
will help you work out what areas to prioritize.

good luck !


> 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.

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