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

Subject: Re: Are User Surveys the best approach for defining your audienc
From: "Doug, Data Librarian at Ext 4225" <engstromdd -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 2 Feb 1995 12:43:24 -0600


This is written in response to:

I agree that it [site visits and user contact] is a good idea. But how do
you deal with users who are hostile to the idea of documentation being
written in the first place - for fear that it will make their jobs less
secure - and who would be very suspicious of the idea of someone from
another dept (or company) offering to learn their job?

Well, if this were easy, everybody would be doing it. I admit that it's
much harder when dealing with users outside the company, but the original
post dealt with in-house users, so I didn't address the issue. (You can
only cram so much into 75 lines.) However, I'm convinced it can be done, to
the mutual benefit of writers, users, and developers.

Obviously, each situation is a little different, and will require a
different approach, depending on the skills, preferences and aptitude of
the technical communicator, the corporate culture, characteristics of the
users, and so forth. However, as in most politically-sensitive areas, the
approach boils down to Lyndon Johnson's famous maxim: "Everybody wants
something, you just have to figure out what it is."

One way insert yourself into the user role is to offer help when help is
desperately needed. Most departments experience some sort of peak-loading
period, during which any extra bodies, from any source, are appreciated, no
questions asked.

In my first and best site visit, I worked as a data-entry clerk at our most
overloaded and understaffed plant during the peak of detasseling season.
Two trainers and I were assigned to the project in staggered two-week
shifts. We were fully up to speed on the detasseler payroll system, and
where more proficient on other systems than the "temps" normally hired to
fill the gap. Plus, we didn't cost the plant anything.

They loved us, and after two weeks in a hot room cranking mud-spattered
time cards into a balky DEC terminal, I didn't need anybody to tell me
about workflow or organization of information. I kept notes as I went,
mailing them to myself from the terminal. The notes became the basis of a
new category of documentation I built when I got back, and released the
following year.

Other opportunities may present themselves. Sub for a clerk or technician
who is going to be absent for an extended period, leaving their group in a
bind. Maternity leaves are great for this, since they're relatively
predictable and management is often reluctant to hire a temp, expecting
others in the group to "cover" for the absent colleague.

Actively suspicious users are more difficult to deal with, certainly. And
you have to approach each one individually. In one case, you may earn
their trust by sharing common interests or hobbies. In another, you may
help them with a work-related problem. (I won over a somewhat-reluctant
plant electrician [and his even more reluctant manager] by tuning a control
unit that had been givng them fits for months.)

Flattery, when used appropriately, often works well ("Gee, that's twice as
fast as the standard procedure; the boys at the Umptyfritz design group
will go crazy when I show it to them."), and thank-you notes (with copies
to supervisors) can go a long way toward greasing the path for "next time."
("Bob Brown's contributions will make the job of every XYZ user in the
company easier." Great evaluation fodder.)

It helps, of course, if your company culture promotes sharing and
unrestricted "peer and near peer" contacts. I have the tremendous
privilege of working in a company where both are hallowed traditions, and
we're a far stronger organization for it. Unfortunately, if it doesn't
exist, you can't create it on your own. But you can start.


Doug "Did you really think that you could
ENGSTROMDD -at- phibred -dot- com conjure up the Devil, and then expect
him to behave?"
--Fox Mulder

The preceding opinions and positions are mine alone, and are only
coincidentally related to those of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.

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