“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