Re: Cost of Documentation

Subject: Re: Cost of Documentation
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 21 May 1996 07:15:53 PDT

Michael J Maloney writes:

> The "return on investment" of technical documentation is nearly
> impossible to measure.

Not so. A perfectly straightforward experiment will reveal all.
There are several different approaches to this. The most revealing
is to split users into two groups; the control group, who gets the
usual stuff, and the experimental group, who doesn't. For a commercial
product, you can track lost sales, support phone calls, and renewed
support contracts (you can also do surveys, but actions speak louder
than words). Products in which the customer has a long-term commitment
and prior familiarity will require a longer experimental period, as
it takes such customers longer to ditch such a product in favor of one
that makes sense, but the principle is the same.

On a more immediate scale, you can do testing in a controlled environment.
When I was at Weitek, we did installation testing of our SPARC upgrade
processor. We just gave people the packaged upgrade product (with
documentation) and told them to install it while we watched. We changed
both the documentation and the installation tools on the basis of
these tests.

(Non-technical people did the best on the installation, because they
were intimidated by the process and followed the directions closely.
People who considered themselves to be hardware/software whizzes did
the worst. People who "never use documentation" all used the
documentation. They'd guess what to do, try it, get confused, look
at the manual, make a little progress, get confused, look at the
manual, etc.)

If you test a cross-section of users, you can report on the user community's
usage of documentation with far more authority than the corporate
folklore that floats around. If the results are favorable, summarize
them in a one-page memo and distribute it to the entire upper management
of the company, plus anyone else in a position to cause you annoyance.

Such testing programs tend to sound good to management if they don't
sound elaborate and expensive. Scientific testing is hard to object
to on principle.

-- Robert
Robert Plamondon, President/Managing Editor, High-Tech Technical Writing, Inc.
36475 Norton Creek Road * Blodgett * Oregon * 97326
robert -at- plamondon -dot- com * (541) 453-5841 * Fax: (541) 453-4139

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