Re: Are User Surveys the best approach for defining your audienc

Subject: Re: Are User Surveys the best approach for defining your audienc
From: Sherri Hall <shall -at- HILCO -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 1 Feb 1995 17:32:33 CST

Please, please, please summarize to the list (or at least to me
if there's not much interest). We struggle with this issue
a lot, especially since our reader profile has changed
in the last 5 years. We're finding our readers are less technical
and we can't make the assumptions we used to make.
Here's my input to your questions. Hope it helps.

> Can anyone make suggestions as to some good questions to ask on a user survey?

My answers come from my own experience and from a really great
seminar I attended by Jonathan Price, leading online help guru:
Get specific customer data such as:
-- level of education
-- description of tasks users need your software for
-- level of experience with computers in general
-- level experience with your type of software in particular

From the data you gather you'll see if your readers fall under
one main profile description (post-graduate, technical, etc.) or many
profile descriptions. In other words, you'll discover how many
audiences your documentation REALLY has.

Also, give close questions--ones that can be answered with
yes/no, short phrases, fill-in-the-blank answers.
Questions which require long answers
aren't answered as frequently (especially by engineering types)
and the answers are hard to analyze.

> And how can we get them to send it back?

Several ways:

1. Offer a reward. We give out mouse pads, pens, highlighters,
mugs, etc., to say thank you for taking the time to fill out
our survey. There are a lot of inexpensive incentive items
on the market today.

2. Build credibility: report the results of the survey and
the decisions you make as a result of the survey to your readers.
This shows them that their input really mattered and that you did
something with the data you gathered. This
step helps you get more responses on subsequent surveys.

3. Make it easy for them to fill out and return. Our surveys
are both fax-ready and snail mail-able.

> We've got to start somewhere, but is a survey the best approach?

It can be if you do your homework (like you've started here).
Make sure you do usability testing of your survey. In other
words, let un-biased people take the survey to see if your
questions get the kind of answers you want. Many times you
may be looking for a specific type of information but your
questions are too ambiguous so you don't get what you need.
User testing is a clue to those ambiguous areas.

Also, consider phone interviews rather than paper surveys.
Many people will tell you what they think if they don't have
to take the time to write it down. Plus, you can get so much
more from the tone of how they say things and you can explore
answers that you need clarification on, etc.

Good luck.
Sherri Hall * May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always
shall -at- hilco -dot- com * at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face ....

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