RE: Seeking Online Help Surveys Advice

Subject: RE: Seeking Online Help Surveys Advice
From: <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 11 Jan 2016 21:28:13 -0500

I agree with everything Peter says.

But it gets worse.

First, you are only reaching the people who are actually using your help.
The people you should probably care about most are the ones that don't. Most
of us can no longer assume that we have a captive audience.

Second, what users want is to type their question into a search box and have
the right answer pop up. If a page shows up that looks like it might be
relevant, they will follow links from that page as long as they feel the
information scent is getting stronger. That's pretty much it. They no longer
accept that they should have to learn how your content is organized or spend
any time learning their way around your documentation set.

They would rather the search box be Google. If it is not, they will probably
try Google first. If they do try your help first, they will soon get
frustrated and go to Google if they don't find an answer quickly. They will
not be conscious of using an organized help system. They will see a page or
a set of pages turned up by search or by following links.

They don't know or care about help system design, formats, or organization.
It has been demonstrated that when you ask people what format they would
like a manual in, they tend to say PDF, but they rarely actually look at
PDFs when they are provided if there is searchable online help available. My
guess is that what they mean when they ask for PDF is, "Oh God, don't give
me paper," and that they probably don't think of the help pages they
actually use as being a manual at all.

At best you will get some schoolbook answer about how they think books are
supposed to be organized or how they want you to think they do research.
Censorious pundits keep telling people their research habits are shameful,
so they don't want to admit to them. (Though, information foraging theory
would suggest that their habits may actually be optimal.) Thus they won't
often say, "Oh I just Google for it" because they think that will make them
look bad or make you feel bad about all the effort you are putting into
organization they don't use. But for the most part, they just Google for it.

So your survey is based on a false premise. Users don't use your help
system. They use the first search box they can find and they glance at some
of the pages returned by search hoping to pick up an information scent they
can follow.

What matters, therefore, is not how your help system is organized, but how
well you pages work when people come to them like this, and how well linked
they are so they can follow the information scent were it leads.

Mark Baker

Author: Every Page is Page One: Topic-based Writing for Technical
Communication and the Web

-----Original Message-----
From: techwr-l-bounces+mbaker=analecta -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
[mailto:techwr-l-bounces+mbaker=analecta -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com] On Behalf
Of Peter Neilson
Sent: Monday, January 11, 2016 6:41 PM
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: Re: Seeking Online Help Surveys Advice

People using online help want a solution to an immediate problem. They do
NOT want, when looking for the help, to be presented with anything about a
survey. I normally send those surveys to my own version of /dev/null
(formerly the circular file).

The people who answer the surveys have already self-selected themselves to
be the ones who don't need crucial answers NOW.

Additionally, most surveys are badly constructed, and have at least one of
these faults:
- Ask for rating on a scale of 1 to 10 (or 0 to 9) instead of "bad - don't
care - good".
- Present the perpetrator of the survey with numeric results that are really
without meaning.
- Annoy people with mandatory selections.
- Annoy people with selections like "needs improvement - okay - great"
when "horrid" should have been one of the choices.
- Fail to collect lengthy, written responses.
- Fail to collect a critique of the survey itself.
- Seem to pretend a preservation of anonymity.
- Indicate in flashing neon that the questions were never tested on a naive
audience.

There are plenty of other faults. Those are just some.

Try to make sure your survey is harmless, or at least mostly harmless.


On Mon, 11 Jan 2016 15:37:16 -0500, David Renn <daverenn08 -at- gmail -dot- com>
wrote:

> Hi Whirlers,
>
> My company is working to put together a set of survey questions to
> gather information about our online help users.
>
> The general premise is to simply find out more about our users. That
> is, who they are, what information they typically look for, what sort
> of format/organization they prefer online help content to be in, what
> they think of our current help, etc, etc.
>
> For those of you who have experience with this, do you have any
> stories to share about your experience or general advice? Are there
> any particular questions you think are must-haves to include in
> surveys like this? Is there a sort of tone or way of framing questions
> that yield the most helpful results? Overall, what advice do you have
> that would potentially get the best information to us provide the most
> relevant, meaningful, direct, and user-friendly help content?
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Follow-Ups:

References:
Seeking Online Help Surveys Advice: From: David Renn
Re: Seeking Online Help Surveys Advice: From: Peter Neilson

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