RE: Seeking Online Help Surveys Advice

Subject: RE: Seeking Online Help Surveys Advice
From: "Janoff, Steven" <Steven -dot- Janoff -at- hologic -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, "mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com" <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 12 Jan 2016 04:51:21 +0000

So you're saying, Mark, that the page itself is where it's at. A single page is paramount. (Typically web page.)

You want the single page that the person lands on to convey a full scope of information that they're looking for (somewhat to the granularity they're looking for), and then for additional information they can follow appropriate links that sort of branch out to neighboring subjects, or parent subjects, or child subjects.

So you can't worry about organization or progression through some kind of continuum, you can only be concerned with the single page itself. (I'm guessing that's what you ultimately mean when you say that every page is page one.)

So if I want information on a particular task -- let's take something mundane like how to clean limescaling from a sink faucet -- I want to land on a page that gives me enough conceptual background to know what I'm doing, and then the specific steps to accomplish the task (and have a bright and shiny faucet once again!). And if I need supplemental information, I would ideally be able to find that in links that appear on that same page.

But presumably I would not have to leave that page if it has exactly what I'm looking for to accomplish that task.

By the way, do you think that something like DITA accomplishes this? Or any form of structured writing?

I see what you mean, though, by saying that at this stage of our progression as users of technology, a book is no longer important, nor is a help system. It is the single page that is king, in a certain sense.

So the holy grail is to write the perfect or ideal single page for the topic you're dealing with. (Page and topic might be synonymous here since you would typically scroll down a web page to read what you need, as with most Wikipedia articles.)

So the question to me is, how do you write the perfect page? What's in it, and what's not in it?

You might have spelled this out over time on your blog, but it'd be great if you could sum it up for us here.

Thanks for a provocative post.


PS - Another thought is, what kind of organization would you use for such a system, if any at all. Is it just a loose collection of pages only linked together by hyperlinks? Would there be a hierarchy of pages? Or would it not matter?

On Monday, January 11, 2016 6:28 PM, mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com wrote:

I agree with everything Peter says.

But it gets worse.

First, you are only reaching the people who are actually using your help.
The people you should probably care about most are the ones that don't. Most of us can no longer assume that we have a captive audience.

Second, what users want is to type their question into a search box and have the right answer pop up. If a page shows up that looks like it might be relevant, they will follow links from that page as long as they feel the information scent is getting stronger. That's pretty much it. They no longer accept that they should have to learn how your content is organized or spend any time learning their way around your documentation set.

They would rather the search box be Google. If it is not, they will probably try Google first. If they do try your help first, they will soon get frustrated and go to Google if they don't find an answer quickly. They will not be conscious of using an organized help system. They will see a page or a set of pages turned up by search or by following links.

They don't know or care about help system design, formats, or organization.
It has been demonstrated that when you ask people what format they would like a manual in, they tend to say PDF, but they rarely actually look at PDFs when they are provided if there is searchable online help available. My guess is that what they mean when they ask for PDF is, "Oh God, don't give me paper," and that they probably don't think of the help pages they actually use as being a manual at all.

At best you will get some schoolbook answer about how they think books are supposed to be organized or how they want you to think they do research.
Censorious pundits keep telling people their research habits are shameful, so they don't want to admit to them. (Though, information foraging theory would suggest that their habits may actually be optimal.) Thus they won't often say, "Oh I just Google for it" because they think that will make them look bad or make you feel bad about all the effort you are putting into organization they don't use. But for the most part, they just Google for it.

So your survey is based on a false premise. Users don't use your help system. They use the first search box they can find and they glance at some of the pages returned by search hoping to pick up an information scent they can follow.

What matters, therefore, is not how your help system is organized, but how well you pages work when people come to them like this, and how well linked they are so they can follow the information scent were it leads.

Mark Baker

Author: Every Page is Page One: Topic-based Writing for Technical Communication and the Web

-----Original Message-----
From: techwr-l-bounces+mbaker=analecta -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
[mailto:techwr-l-bounces+mbaker=analecta -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com] On Behalf Of Peter Neilson
Sent: Monday, January 11, 2016 6:41 PM
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: Re: Seeking Online Help Surveys Advice

People using online help want a solution to an immediate problem. They do NOT want, when looking for the help, to be presented with anything about a survey. I normally send those surveys to my own version of /dev/null (formerly the circular file).

The people who answer the surveys have already self-selected themselves to be the ones who don't need crucial answers NOW.

Additionally, most surveys are badly constructed, and have at least one of these faults:
- Ask for rating on a scale of 1 to 10 (or 0 to 9) instead of "bad - don't care - good".
- Present the perpetrator of the survey with numeric results that are really without meaning.
- Annoy people with mandatory selections.
- Annoy people with selections like "needs improvement - okay - great"
when "horrid" should have been one of the choices.
- Fail to collect lengthy, written responses.
- Fail to collect a critique of the survey itself.
- Seem to pretend a preservation of anonymity.
- Indicate in flashing neon that the questions were never tested on a naive audience.

There are plenty of other faults. Those are just some.

Try to make sure your survey is harmless, or at least mostly harmless.

On Mon, 11 Jan 2016 15:37:16 -0500, David Renn <daverenn08 -at- gmail -dot- com>

> Hi Whirlers,
> My company is working to put together a set of survey questions to
> gather information about our online help users.
> The general premise is to simply find out more about our users. That
> is, who they are, what information they typically look for, what sort
> of format/organization they prefer online help content to be in, what
> they think of our current help, etc, etc.
> For those of you who have experience with this, do you have any
> stories to share about your experience or general advice? Are there
> any particular questions you think are must-haves to include in
> surveys like this? Is there a sort of tone or way of framing questions
> that yield the most helpful results? Overall, what advice do you have
> that would potentially get the best information to us provide the most
> relevant, meaningful, direct, and user-friendly help content?

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Seeking Online Help Surveys Advice: From: David Renn
Re: Seeking Online Help Surveys Advice: From: Peter Neilson
RE: Seeking Online Help Surveys Advice: From: mbaker

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