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What you are really looking for is the right patterns for your help content.
What needs to be in, what can be left out, what should be linked to, what
order should it be in, how should it be expressed. The problem is, how do
you determine which patterns work. Some approaches are:
* Surveys. Cheap, but with all the problems that have been mentioned.
* User testing. Develop a pattern, test it, improve it, repeat. Great if you
can afford the time and money, but even so hard to reproduce work conditions
in a lab.
* Feedback forms. Cheap, but response rates low and hard to evaluate what
"Not helpful" means.
* Metrics. Look at usage patterns on you website (if your help is web
based). But hard to interpret. Is people spending a lot of time on a page a
good thing or a bad thing. Are the most used pages simple the pages that
describe the most badly designed features?
* Study successful patterns on the Web. The web is a content pattern factory
and refinery. Study StackOverflow to determine what questions people ask in
a similar field to yours, and what sorts of answers they like best. Study
Wikipedia to see how the patterns for describing different subjects develop
* Practice the task. Do the task yourself and see what information you
really need to complete it. Have several people do it and look for common
and outlying information needs.
I believe the last two are the best source of information we have for
improving our topic patterns. The others may all have their uses,
particularly to test some of the patterns we develop through observation and
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 David Renn
Sent: Tuesday, January 12, 2016 10:30 AM
To: Peter Neilson
Cc: TECHWR-L (techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com)
Subject: Re: Seeking Online Help Surveys Advice
> 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
So if this is the case, how can we survey---or perhaps better put,
analyze---our users' satisfaction, user-experience, and efficiency in
finding the information they need?
If not a survey form, then what might be some even more useful tools to
learn about our audience to provide them better content in a quicker, more
The only thing I can think of is user-testing, but that would very likely be
difficult for my team to set up. Surveys are at least cheap and easy, albeit
maybe not as accurate and truthful.
On Tue, Jan 12, 2016 at 3:59 AM, Peter Neilson <neilson -at- windstream -dot- net>
> On Mon, 11 Jan 2016 23:51:21 -0500, Janoff, Steven <
> Steven -dot- Janoff -at- hologic -dot- com> asked:
> So the holy grail is to write the perfect or ideal single page for the
>> topic you're dealing with.
> This grail is fragile. The next writer to touch the page with
> corrections may lack the ability to retain the polished jewel that you
> created, or even may be tasked with expanding it to contain material
> that you deliberately left out.
> In my experience it was the latter. The very next person on the
> project was told to single-source the help pages, and simply imported
> all the page images of the printed manual. (This was about 30 years
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