Re: Value added by technical documentation

Subject: Re: Value added by technical documentation
From: Paul Branchaud <paul -at- VEDGE -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 7 Mar 1997 14:55:49 -0500

On Thu, 6 Mar 1997, Jay Mead wrote:

> We know the quality technical communication we produce adds value to an
> organization, but how can we measure it, in terms management
> will understand? Have any of you developed ways of calculating the
> dollars-and-cents value of your technical documentation? Ways that can be
> replicated and used across organizations?


I wish I could provide you with clear cut numbers to show how good
documentation benefits a company, but I do not have such numbers.
However, I do have personal experience about how to guage how your
documentation is received by users. Although the two companies I have
written for have been decent work environmants, I have come to realize
that documentation is usually considered a low priority. Part of that is
due to the fact that many people do not understand the role of
documentation (online or hardcopy) in the software industry. The best sign
that you have provided customers with good documentation (IMHO) is if the
technical support lines are quiet. Although I have no proof, I feel there
is a direct correlation between the quality of documentation and the
number of calls a technical support line gets with regards to a specific
product. My former employer was rumored to having *4000* unasnwered
technical support calls--for a single product line (fortunately, not the
one I was working on).

I have had to research other products in the past (for use with the
product I was documenting) and been known to throw the user's guide at
great velocity away from my desk, so disgusted was I with the quality of
the documentation. A good manual (or online help) usually draws no
attention to itself (good or bad), it just does its job of informing the
user. GREAT documentation is a rare beast, but is sometimes singled out as
a strong point of a product, enabling the user to quickly learn and master
the product in question.

It all boils down to the poor underpaid wretches in technical support
(help desk). If their phones are ringing off the hook (or worse, if they
are using voice mail to deal with the overload), you can be pretty sure
that the documentation is part of the reason. I will concede that many
users don't even look at documentation (heck, I'm usually one of them),
but eventually users do venture a gander at the documentation. If the
information is easy to find and is clear, your technical support people
should have a much easier life. If you treat documentation as an
afterthought, you'd best train your employees to answer the phone with
"Technical support, how can I help you?"

I guess I should start putting on my NOMEX (tm) suit to ward off the
flames that are sure to follow... ;)

Paul Branchaud "Men, do you fear that, one day, your
paul -at- vedge -dot- com wife will run her hands through your
Technical Writer hair... and you won't be there?!"
Visual Edge Software, Ltd. -- Richard Jeni (on hair loss)
--My opinions are rarely shared by Visual Edge and other smart folks--

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