Customer Question: Help

“I want the documentation to tell me what to do when I don’t know what I want to do.”
LiveCycle Customer Quote

As technical writers, we deal in information. In essence, we create and publish meaningful information about how to use software products and features for you, our customers. Or at least we like to think we create meaningful information. Every now and then we get the feedback from customers that the documentation we produce is not adequate. Often, we don’t get anything more specific than that, but sometimes, if we are lucky, we’ll get a specific complaint like: add more examples.

We think that part of the problem is that we don’t get very much direct customer feedback. We know you’re out there — somebody is buying our products after all — but how can we help you do what you do better, faster, etc?


Let’s go back a step. Maybe the problem really stems from the fact that we don’t really know when you go looking for information. Do you just fiddle with the product and, if you can’t figure something out, then you go look for answers in the help? Do you just Google and see what comes up, intentionally ignoring anything that sounds like product documentation? Or do you like to sit down and read software manuals cover to cover, like you would a Jane Austen novel, or a Stephen King? Not Tolstoy though; you can read Tolstoy, but you can’t read Tolstoy.We think that you don’t read software manuals for fun. Unlike a novel or motion picture, we think you probably aren’t interested in starting at the beginning and working your way through to the happily ever after. We think you want to access specific chunks of information quickly, and then get out quickly. Because we think this is how you operate, you slick customer you, we approach our work holistically, thinking about the big picture and how information will fit together so that we can create short, simple, directed topics to address your working style. But we don’t really know if it’s working. So I ask:

  • When do you reach for the Help?
  • How do you access the Help: online, in-product, a friend who knows everything about computers, … ?
  • What has your Help experience been like? Did you ever have a good experience? If so, what made it so good? If you’ve had some bad ones, what made them so bad?

We’re looking for feedback, but don’t think you have to write a novel. Any bits and pieces you are willing to share would really help us out. Comment directly to this blog post and share your opinions. We really do want to know.– Your Friendly Neighborhood Technical Writers

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3 Responses to Customer Question: Help

  1. Elaine Schmitz says:

    Feedback that I have given to the LiveCycle google group is the following:We need lots of examples. Real world examples. The documentation is way to dry. As a person that loves to read techno-rags, I find this documentation the most difficult I’ve ever had to read.The livecycle javascript document is crazy. The only thing that I love about it are the examples at the end of the document! I know it will make documentation larger, but each javascript command needs an example along side it.Same goes for the Livecycle Components / Services. Each one needs a real world example and a thorough walkthrough of the variables that are input / output from the service.For example, overriding the default render service: that took me two months to tackle just from the documentation and searching the internet. In what cases would I want to do that? Why is it necessary? It was incredibly difficult to (finally) learn that the render process is 1) not a task manager endpoint 2) needs to be defined on the advanced tab of an xfaForm variable and that 3) there is also a main process involved. It was truly the most difficult research I’ve ever done on the net.Also, what’s urlSpec? What’s target url? Where are these fields being populated? If you have three input fields, who knew that on the advanced tab of the xfaForm variable that there would be three fields (same number as input fields) that are available for assignment?To summarize, provide a workflow / example of every service you have. In writing. The samples that come with the product don’t explain what they’re doing. Thank you for listening!

  2. Alex Mitchell says:

    Elaine,Thank you for sharing your thoughts and specific examples. This is the kind of feedback we can take away and attempt to address right away, so this is extremely useful. If you think of more examples, please share them with us.We are also using outlets like this blog, and the Developer Center, as a way to post useful content to customers in between major releases, so you don’t have to wait for information that perhaps never made it into the docs.

  3. Larry W. Monks says:

    I have read your Questions/comments and have found them very worthwhile. There have been sites that I would have given anything to have a site like yours. It has been easy to access, You take simple, ( but not to a customer ) question, and give a straight answer. I have been on sites that have my world hell,(I wanted to throw this computer ot the window). There is nothing worse than getting a standard, prepared, answer to a question!! In my past days, (I’m semi-retired), if an employee did that to a customer of mine, and I found out, I would fire that person immediatly!! I wouldn’t even allow them to go to their desk to get their personal belongings, We would gather thier personal belongs, put them in a paper sack, and let them pick the belongs up in 2 or 3 days! I had to have at least that long to calm down. Thank you for listening, and help. My moto is the customer is always right. A happy customer will come back always!