The best book I’ve read in 2012 wasn’t written for Technical Authors. It wasn’t even published in 2011. It was written by one my fellow speakers at the STC Conference in Chicago, and it was one that was the most thought provoking books I’ve read this year.
With technology becoming part of everyday life, sometimes the traditional approach to writing user documentation just doesn’t meet users’ needs. It can be the case that the formal and succinct approach to writing User Assistance isn’t right for users of your product or service.
It’s often about adding an emotional factor, being more conversational and less formal. It’s something we call “Affective Writing” or “Affective Assistance”. You can see this approach being used in the online User Assistance for applications such Firefox, where they reported a 13% reduction in the number support calls as a result of adopting this approach.
Why do Technical Authors only use two of the three qualities of good design?
Vitruvius, the Roman architect, claimed a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas and venustas: it must be solid, useful and beautiful.
Paul Mijksenaar, a modern day Information Designer, turned these qualities into a practical three-point formula: Reliability, Utility and Satisfaction.
Though Mijksenaar did not design his device specifically to analyse information products, Anne-Florence Dujardin (of Sheffield Hallam University) argues you can use his gauge to rate and assess user documentation.
So why do Technical Authors often focus only on Reliability and Usefulness, and fail to take into account Satisfaction? Beauty is an emotional relationship with an object, so perhaps Technical Authors should be (a) measuring users’ satisfaction with what they produce and (b) creating more emotionally engaging documents.
How to you take into account users’ satisfaction with the information you publish?