A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

Articles>Documentation>Usability

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1.
#35082

Adopting Documentation Usability Techniques to Alleviate Cognitive Friction

Usability is the combination of effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which the users accomplish defined goals in a given environment. User-centered documentation matches the users' mental model, thereby helping the users find information they want quickly and easily in their hour of need. The list of documentation usability criteria is fairly subjective at this time, and various opinionated discussion groups have contributed to this. Usable documentation is based on a deep understanding of the users' tasks, and this understanding can only be gained through interviewing representative users. Applying information architecture techniques, the content within documentation should be properly chunked so that the users can assimilate the information properly. Procedural guides should have a well-defined and searchable index that enables users to connect key application terms to their correct context. User-friendly documentation is always succinct, but never at the expense of omitting critical/useful information. It should be developed using a structured process so that it starts with the big picture and gradually adds lower level of details, addressing the needs of every unique group of users. Finally, the documentation must be tested among a representative group of users, and their feedback should be incorporated to make sure that it has met all of the major usability criteria.

Biswas, Debarshi Gupta and Suranjana Dasgupta. STC Usability SIG (2009). Articles>Usability>User Experience>Documentation

2.
#35936

Adopting Documentation Usability Techniques to Alleviate Cognitive Friction

Cognitive friction results in a digital divide between the software development community and software users. The digital divide, in turn, has a direct correlation with the usability of the application: how well can the software users learn and use the application or the product to perform their tasks and accomplish their goals. Today's Technical Communicators can help bridge this divide and reduce cognitive friction by applying industry-acclaimed usability techniques to the documentation they produce toward accelerating user acceptance of the product. Less cognitive friction means better user adoption that results in fewer calls to tech support, higher customer satisfaction, and in the long run, better brand loyalty.

Biswas, Debarshi Gupta and Suranjana Dasgupta. Indus (2009). Articles>Documentation>Usability>Methods

3.
#15004

The Best of Both Worlds: Combining Usability Testing and Documentation Projects  (link broken)   (PDF)

Describes two cases in which usability testing and documentation projects were performed in conjunction with one other. It describes how usability testing affected the design and content of the documentation and how follow-on usability studies added significant new data not revealed in the initial tests.

Kantner, Laurie, Stephanie L. Rosenbaum and Connie Leas. Tec-Ed, Inc. (1997). Articles>Documentation>Usability

4.
#38600

The Blame Game of RTFM

It may surprise you to find that the wikipedia entry for RTFM is a actually longer than the Wikipedia entry for technical communication. The RTFM response captures the disconnect between technical writers and end-users. Presumably, technical writers include the information in the help material that users ask about. Yet users often don’t take the time to consult the manual to find the answer. If only the users weren’t so lazy, the writer thinks, and mumbles RTFM in response to their question. On the flip side, the user thinks, if only the manual/application weren’t so crappy, then I wouldn’t need to ask others for the information I need.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2012). Articles>Documentation>Usability>Technical Writing

5.
#37624

The Blur Test for Assessing Page Design in Technical Documentation

The “blur test” is a technique for testing the design of a user interface (UI) or an image. The idea is to squint, or to blur the image in some other way, so that you see the areas of contrast and how they attract your attention. Perhaps we can use the blur test to analyse the design of a page in our technical documentation too.

Maddox, Sarah. ffeathers (2010). Articles>Documentation>Usability>Assessment

6.
#34507

Bringing Help to the Forefront: Strategies to Increase the Usability of Your Software User Assistance and Your Product   (PDF)   (members only)

Makes the case for embedded help as one of the most effective ways to integrate help within an interface. Although it can be difficult, Bleiel illustrates a way to “elegantly implement and map embedded help.”

Bleiel, Nicoletta A. Intercom (2009). Articles>Documentation>Help>Usability

7.
#35195

Can You Design Your Way to a “No User Documentation” Approach?

For simple, commonly known actions in a closed environment, you probably can design your way to a “no user documentation” approach. Good design can also lead to less documentation. However, customers may expect to do more than that with a product and, in those situations, documentation can play a key role in meeting those expectations.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2009). Articles>Documentation>Usability>Minimalism

8.
#23564
9.
#35285

Change Your Writing Style to Make Documentation More Usable and User-Friendly

When the subjects of usability and user friendliness in relation to documentation are broached, writing isn’t often the first thing that comes to mind. But it should be.

Nesbitt, Scott. DMN Communications (2009). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Usability

10.
#14998

Combining Usability Research with Documentation Development for Improved User Support   (PDF)

Describes two case studies where Tec-Ed leveraged usability research and documentation activities to create solutions that met the needs of both our clients and their customers.

Keirnan, Timothy, Lori Anscheutz and Stephanie L. Rosenbaum. Tec-Ed, Inc. (2002). Articles>Documentation>Usability

11.
#27544

A Comparison of Two Evaluation Techniques for Technical Documentation

This study compared two evaluation techniques, Usability Testing and Cognitive Walkthrough, in their ability to identify errors in aviation maintenance documentation. The techniques were evaluated to see how much unique information they each produced as well as the type of errors identified. Results showed that the techniques were complementary in their findings and both are recommended in the development of technical documentation.

Rogers, Bonnie Lida, Chris Hamblin and Alex Chaparro. Usability News (2005). Articles>Documentation>Assessment>Usability

12.
#35679

Comprehensibility as an Economic Factor

How can you guarantee a clearly understandable user manual? Is it even possible to measure the quality of technical documents or does comprehensibility merely depend on the reader? To answer these questions for the Porsche AG, content analysis provider semiotis³ developed a model to help measure the quality of documents.

Eybe, Angelika and David Messelken. TC World (2009). Articles>Documentation>Usability>Assessment

13.
#23566

Creating Easy-To-Use Documentation for Paper, Online and Multimedia   (PDF)

The term 'easy to use' is typically used in connection with the user interface of software applications. However, the term can also be used to describe documentation, referring to techniques of organization, layout, or design that make information both easy to understand and easy to find. As the technology associated with documentation moves toward online and multimedia documentation, the concept of ease of use becomes even more important and relevant. In this paper, we address some of the differences between paper and online documentation that impact the development of easy-to-use online documentation, and outline some of the high-level, emerging issues to be aware of in the development of multimedia documentation.

Baldasare, John, Marie T, Dumbra and Barbara C. Trevaskis. STC Proceedings (1994). Articles>Documentation>Usability

14.
#19744

Designing Usable Technical Documents: Why Bother?

Many professionals in the field of technical writing involved in the design of instruction guides, will at some point in their career have experienced some doubt whether their efforts to produce high quality documentation really make sense. Do consumers attach some value to the instruction guides for the products they have purchased? Do they use these documents at all, or are most instruction guides thrown away, together with the packing material of the equipment they come with?

Jansen, C. Indus (2002). Articles>Documentation>Usability

15.
#10571

Docs in the Real World

In two recent consulting projects, we worked with online documentation developers who wanted to understand the problems users encountered and how their documentation helped solve those problems. To find out, we went and observed users in their own work environments. Although the clients and their software differ significantly, we found similar issues.

User Interface Engineering (1998). Articles>Usability>Documentation

16.
#36127

Documentation Needs Usability Testing, Too

All documentation can stand some usability testing. We technical communicators like to claim that we’re user focused and user advocates. I like to believe that myself. However, sometimes we can be more like developers than we want to admit.

Minson, Benjamin. Gryphon Mountain (2010). Articles>Documentation>Usability>Testing

17.
#34637

Documentation Usability: A Few Things I’ve Learned from Watching Users

Even though your customers may not read manuals, your tech support team probably does, which means someone is reading the manuals and using them to help others. But if your users find it easier to call someone, wait on hold for an agent, and then ask the agent a question rather than find the answer in the help, maybe your help materials aren’t very usable. Maybe increasing the usability of your company’s documentation could alleviate the need users feel to seek answers from another source.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2009). Articles>Documentation>Usability>User Centered Design

18.
#32823

Don't Let Your Product's Features Become Expensive Flaws

Your product's unexplained features can turn into costly flaws. This article describes three real-world products with just such "features." It presents ways you can prevent these feature-to-flaw conversions by improving the User Documentation for your products.

Great Technical Writing (2008). Articles>Documentation>Usability>Technical Writing

19.
#23764

Effects of Documentation Errors on User Perception of Interactive Programs: The Experimental Design   (PDF)

It would be useful to determine how much effect errors in product documentation have on users, if the errors do not seriously interfere with product use. In an effort to start collecting information on this issue, we designed an experiment to explore the reactions of users to a simple interactive program with flawed documentation. We hypothesized that product quality would be judged in part by the quality of the documentation, if the errors in the documentation interfered with task performance. We also hypothesized that some but not all users would be sensitive to documentation errors and would downgrade their rating of the program and the documentation based on these errors. Our experimental design is described in this paper.

Ridgway, Lenore S. STC Proceedings (1994). Articles>Documentation>Usability

20.
#29126

Evaluating the Effect of Iconic Linkage on the Usability of Software User Guides   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This study investigates whether Iconic Linkage--the use of the identical wording to present the same information recurring in a text--can improve the usability of user guides. Iconic Linkage is a writing strategy that potentially allows users to work more quickly and effectively and which promotes better retention of information. The usefulness of Iconic Linkage was tested in a laboratory-based usability study that combined: 1) objective task-based evaluation; and 2) users' subjective evaluations of a software program used in recording parliamentary debates. A post-test survey designed to test subjects' retention of information contained in the user guides was also administered. The study shows that Iconic Linkage significantly improved usability of the user guide: in all tasks, subjects worked more effectively and made fewer mistakes; while in the three timed tasks, subjects completed the tasks much more quickly. Subjects also gave higher ratings for the software and their retention of information was noticeably improved.

Byrne, Jody. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2005). Articles>Documentation>Software>Usability

21.
#27545

Evaluation Toolbox for Aviation Technical Publications

This article describes the Evaluation Toolbox (Chaparro et al., 2004) - an aid to understand the process of evaluating the usability of aviation maintenance documentation -- from the initial development stage through the final pre-publication stage. This toolbox provides techniques to help technical writers better understand their users and to evaluate their documentation more effectively and efficiently.

Rogers, Bonnie Lida, Chris Hamblin and Alex Chaparro. Usability News (2005). Articles>Documentation>Assessment>Usability

22.
#23403

Facilitate Reading

Despite the fantastic development of computers and software, the paperless society seems to be far from implementation. On the contrary, the consumption of paper for documents has increased over the recent years.

Rullgård, Åke. TC-FORUM (2000). Articles>Documentation>Usability

23.
#22847

Faster Factfinding With Digital Libraries?   (PDF)

This paper covers the usability testing of a prototype digital library. The library holds technical manuals for scientific instruments. Findings show test subjects can locate desired documents faster with this digital library than a corresponding paper library. However, the same subjects can locate desired information faster in a paper document than a digital one. Finally, most subjects reported they would prefer to using the online library of technical documents over the library of paper ones.

Barnett, Mark R. STC Proceedings (1997). Articles>Usability>Documentation>Online

24.
#34586

Finding Information in Documentation

Finding information in documentation is easy. Or is it? This blog post argues that there's no universal solution, and that each document and each delivery method offers challenges and requires a slightly different solution.

Nesbitt, Scott. DMN Communications (2009). Articles>Documentation>Usability>Technical Writing

25.
#36036

Findings from an Online Help Usability Test

I conducted some context-sensitive online help usability testing with four users of a Web application. This post discusses the results (without getting overly academic in tone, I hope).

Minson, Benjamin. Gryphon Mountain (2009). Articles>Documentation>Usability>Testing

 
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