Re: High-speed, low-cost testing of documentation

Subject: Re: High-speed, low-cost testing of documentation
From: Chuck Banks <chuck -at- ASL -dot- DL -dot- NEC -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 8 Jul 1993 08:03:17 CDT

To Jane Torpie:


A few suggestions that I hope will help:


How successful customers are in finding information
in your documentation directly affects customer
satisfaction with the entire product package. If
users cannot find information, frustration with the
product increases. Users may reject product entirely.
Users will, after failing to find information within
the documentation, interrupt coworkers for help or
tie up your customer support lines with questions
the documentation could answer if only they could
use the documentation.

Outside agencies are rating documentation quality
as part of product package. Trade publications are
spreading this information and conducting user
satisfaction surveys of their own.

This all results in increased sales (initial and
continuing) for products that include good usable,
accurrate, complete documentation. Bad documents
loose sales. The only way to be certain documents
do the job is to have a sample of users try them
out under monitored realistic conditions.


If you have a training department you can be ahead
of the game. Ask for copies of their hands on and
written tests. Have some people, both experienced
with your product and inexperienced, use the documents
to find answers for written tests and to find
procedures for hands on tests. Time and grade
accuracy of results.

Next, have some of these people actually perform
as many of the hands on tasks as time allows.
Watch their performance. Note any difficulties they
have locating or understanding procedures and steps.
Record the results of their actions and the time

Finally, assemble your results. Look for obvious
inaccuracies and missing information. Also compare
times. If the experienced users and inexperienced
users are taking close to the same time to find
information with nearly the same degree of accuracy,
your manuals are good (short times -- high accuracy)
or not so good (long times -- low accuracy).

If you don't have a training department, make up
written tests of your own. Also prepare hands on
testing procedures by brainstorming and research.
Determine the importance to the customer and the
product of each procedure in your documentation.

List the procedures in descending order of importance.
Have experienced and inexperienced users try as many
of the procedures as time allows. Record and
analyze the results as above.

The selling points to management differ, but most respond to reduced
costs and increased sales. Research your customer support effort.
Find out what problems could easily have been solved if the users
could have found the information in the documentation. Point out
costs of customer service effort and how better documentation could
reduce these costs. Point out training costs and how better, tested
documentation could reduce these, or at least improve instruction
quality and customer acceptance. Point out savings of time and
effort spend correcting defects now rather than later (writers are
up to date now and corrections can be made faster and cheaper than
later when writers are cold and have to spend time refreshing their
knowledge). Point out value of customer satisfaction in repeat sales
and word of mouth effects on further initial sales.

So, it's cheaper and better for sales and customer satisfaction to
find and fix problems before customers find them.

Good Luck, Jane. I hope some of this works for you.

Chuck Banks
__ ________ ______
|\\ | || // Chuck Banks
| \\ | ||_______ || Senior Technical Writer
| \\ | || || NEC America, Inc.
| \\| \\______ \\______ E-Mail: chuck -at- asl -dot- dl -dot- nec -dot- com
America, Incorporated CompuServe: 72520,411

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