Re: Bloated Docs: Identifying What's Useful

Subject: Re: Bloated Docs: Identifying What's Useful
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- westnet -dot- com -dot- au>
To: Techwr-l <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 25 Feb 2012 10:20:37 +0800 (WST)

Wow - so many good responses.

1. Use your interviews to develop a user/task matrix. This is a table in which the columns are the main roles (user types) and the rows are tasks. You should be able to assign the existing topics to one or more cells in this table - i.e. "Topic A relates to role X performing task Y". Your new docs will revolve around helping the main 3 - 6 roles successfully perform the main few dozen tasks. Now that you know who needs to do what, you can rewrite the material with that type of person in mind--what they already know, what they need to know, what other steps they probably need to do before or after this one.

If you can't find a home for an existing topic, put it to one side. Don't discard these orphan topics; put them in a searchable knowledge base. It should be possible to tell after a year or so which of these topics is being visited often/rarely/never.

2. When you interview people, make it clear that you've had nothing to do with the existing material. You're an outsider brought in to bring order and consistency to the manuals, which have accumulated over many years and versions blah blah...

This is based on my own experience of having a chance to visit a few customers. When I introduced myself as described above, I got useful, practical complaints and suggestions. The couple of times when I slipped up and introduced myself as the TW, I got literally nothing usable. People clammed up.

3. Similarly, I haven't found surveys or 'please tell me how to improve the docs' to be useful.

A couple of very useful books:

User and Task Analysis for Interface Design, by Hackos and Redish
Letting Go of the Words, by Ginny Redish

Good luck,
Stuart

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