Should we offer a workshop on documentation as a emotional experience for users?

We’re presenting on documentation as a emotional experience for users at the TCUK conference later this month, and we’re considering whether we should develop this 40 minute presentation into a workshop.

Technical documentation written today really doesn’t take into account the different states of emotion users can have, and this can lead to users bypassing it completely. It’s important to recognize a user’s “state of mind” and deliver content that is best suited to that state. It may also be useful to use techniques that can transition users from one state to another.

So, would you be interested in a workshop on this subject? Please let us know.


Patty Blount

I’ve never considered state of mind before and find the idea intriguing. From personal experience, I admit I don’t read user guides for enjoyment. I read them because I must, so there’s a bit of a “chore” like feeling. I typically don’t open them until I am stuck, so there is also a sense of impatience.

Great suggestion.


The tone I strive for in user manuals or help is the way I would tell a friend to do something if I were standing behind them telling them how to do it. I define unfamiliar terms and acronyms as I go along, talking to the person as an equal who just needs a little coaching until they catch on to the new thing.

Even kids learning how to play a new game don’t want to be “talked down to” by their friends who already know the game’s ins and outs. The tone of the help or manual can make someone learning a new thing feel confident that they can handle it, or make them anxious that they won’t be able to get it. I want them to feel that the guides I write are the “coach” that won’t let them down.

Irene Wong

I am currently preparing a presentation for the annual conference of the Australian Society for Technical Communication. My topic is communicating numbers.
One point I am considering mentioning is this very issue. People are given numerical information about very sensitive issues, for example when choosing a financial plan or retirement funding product. At the point of deciding people know that they will be contributing large amounts of their income into this product possibly for the rest of their working lives. And the outcome will determine their income in retirement.
People also have to choose medical treatment eg for cancer. This is often given in terms of % of success or some kind of risk measure. And sometimes when you are sick you are asked to sign permissions or sign away your rights to litigation. If you are not advised properly about what you are signing, then in this moment of dire need you are being cheated.
Decisions of this type are clearly quite emotional and are industries in which technical writers are employed.
There are other instances of course, like when one goes to buy some kind of products. People may be very excited or they may feel quite intimidated eg what medical insurance package do I choose, what phone plan to I get.
At times like these people may not think as clearly as when they choose other products. They may be excited, worried, intimidated, motivated etc.


I think that would be great. I have spoken to my colleagues about this issue just last week. People often feel frustrated already when they open up help. The last thing they want is unhelpful annoying help that aggravates them more. It has happened to me many times, Microsoft being the biggest culprit!

How can we design Help with this in mind?

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