Getting information from Subject Matter Experts

Flickr photo an interview by illustirInterviews with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are some of the most useful sources for Technical Authors when they are gathering information about a product or procedure. This often involves asking a developer or departmental manager a series of questions focused on the types of questions end users are likely to ask.

Interviewing is one of those dark arts that Technical Authors pick up over time – techniques for getting SMEs to find the time to speak to you and review your drafts, ways to avoid conversations meandering away from what the user will want to know, tools for capturing the interview, and so on.

So what tools should you use?

Coming armed with biscuits (cookies in the USA) is probably the most effective tool! After that, the most useful tool to have is a voice recording device. If you have a smartphone, in effect, you have a digital voice recorder. There are many voice recording apps for both iOS and Android, but the one we like is Recordium.

Recordium

In addition to recording audio, Recordium also enables you annotate the voice recording. You can highlight and tag certain parts of audio recordings (for example: to indicate a new topic or to mark sections that relate to definitions of terms etc), and add attachments to those sections as well. You can use it, in effect, as an audio-orientated note clipping application, similar to Evernote.

Recordium also enables you to vary the playback speed. We’ve found this useful when SMEs are using specialist terminology – you can slow down the recording to check what it was they actually said. Listening at a faster speed is also a useful way of reviewing a recording quickly.

Technical Authors still need to transcribe sections of the interview, so it becomes text. Unfortunately, Text-to-Speech applications still have some way to go. Dragon Dictation is available for Apple devices, and ListNote offers similar functionality for Android. However, even if you are just a two fingered typist, you’re probably better off transcribing the audio yourself.

Are there any other apps you’d recommend? Let us know.

You can now create a free iPad magazine for your online Help, training and support content

Flipboard magazineFlipboard is a popular app for the iPad and Android devices that presents information in a magazine layout.

Users can subscribe to different topics, with the content pulled in from the links tweeted by their friends on Facebook and Twitter. They can also view Web sites and blogs (if they contain a RSS feed) as an online magazine.

Flipboard has just released version 2 of its application, which enables users to create their own magazines by clipping content from a variety of different Web sites.

In other words, brands can now curate their own selections and publish these in a consistent and elegant looking format. Flipboard will create a cover for your magazine with “pull out” headlines, and it will notify you if other people have commented on the items you have included in your magazine.

According to Flipboard, since its launch, their users have been creating one magazine per second.

For Technical Authors, this means you could easily deliver online Help, training, user generated and support content in an attractive looking format.

According to The Daily Telegraph:

This latest move marks an even bigger, more significant step, taking the principle of a personalised and interactive internet, and bringing that to mainstream content delivery…This move confirms that the nature of content delivery is changing. It’s no longer about capturing crowds of many, but the audience of one. This audience of one doesn’t care about the usual magazine and newspaper release schedules, or about trawling through multiple sites to find the articles of most interest; it wants to read its favourite piece of content when it wants, and how it wants and values the curation of like-minded tastemakers, who provide a means to discover new content and cut through the clutter.

You can already view the Cherryleaf Blog as a Flipboard magazine (in Flipboard, just search on Cherryleaf or http://www.cherryleaf.com/blog/feed/), and you’ll also find a test magazine we’ve created called “The MadCap Writer”.

Let us know what you think of the potential for using Flipboard in User Assistance.

See also: Cherryleaf content strategy services

Reducing app abandonment

app abandonment - app store imageAt the UAEurope 12 conference, SAP’s Keren Okman quoted a shocking statistic: that the average mobile or tablet app* is used an average of just 3-4 times by a user.

The issue of “app abandonment” is one that is likely to be of greater concern for software developers in the future, as they invest ever increasing amounts of time and money into developing apps for tablets and mobile devices.

Keren said SAP’s response has been to get their Technical Authors involved in writing the product descriptions displayed in app stores. This is the information people read before deciding to purchase. They plan to rewrite these descriptions and provide more guidance on how to use the produce before customers get started.

In the same way that developers are now considering a “mobile first” strategy when they develop new software and web sites, we may be seeing the beginnings of a “Help first” strategy as well.

A “Help first” strategy is where developers abandon the belief in the totally intuitive app (one that sells itself, requires no online Help and only needs limited support) and recognises the limitations of mobile operating systems require Help/User Assistance to be designed into the application from the very outset of the project planning.

To prove this, developers can use A/B testing to reduce app abandonment and evaluate how much User Assistance is needed.

Unfortunately, if app developers leave the planning for Help to the end, then their app has probably already failed.

*App is a term used for software applications for mobile and tablet devices.