The T-Bot: A new Help model from Microsoft

This month, Microsoft has added Microsoft Teams to Office 365. It’s a instant messaging collaboration tool, similar to Slack. Teams contains the T-Bot, which provides help and assistance to users.

T-Bot main screen

Users can watch videos:

T-Bot Help videos

They can read online Help:

T-Bot online Help

They can read an FAQ:


They can ask the T-Bot a question and receive an answer. The T-Bot initially provides the same answers as the FAQ. If it doesn’t know the answer, it will suggest some articles from the Help:

:T-Bot Question and Answer

Do you think this way of helping users is good? Share your thoughts, using the comments form below.

Getting users to read the Help rather than call support

We spotted an interesting statement by the “Father of Behaviour Design”, BJ Fogg:

“For somebody to do something – whether it’s buying a car, checking an email, or doing 20 press-ups – three things must happen at once.

The person must want to do it, they must be able to, and they must be prompted to do it.

A trigger – the prompt for the action – is effective only when the person is highly motivated, or the task is very easy. If the task is hard, people end up frustrated; if they’re not motivated, they get annoyed.”

See Ian Leslie’s article “The scientists who make apps addictive“.

If we want users to read Help text instead of calling the support line, then we maybe we need to meet those three criteria.

We can assume the user is motivated to fix their problem.

We can write instructions that are clear enough to make them able to solve the problem.

Where some applications fall down is they don’t prompt the user to read the online Help. The link to the Help text is often tucked away in the right hand corner of the screen.

Instead, we could put some of the Help text into the User Interface or the dialog screens,  and we could prompt the user to follow a link to more information. Doing this could get users to read the online Help rather than call support.

Using Hemmingway on our website

Last week, we used the Hemmingway app to highlight any unclear pages on our main website. The app highlighted four pages where we’d used the passive voice or very long sentences.

The first inclination was to think our readers are cleverer, our content is more technical, it’s not possible to rewrite those parts. We found, of course, we could rewrite them. We decided to write them in the same way we’d write user documentation. We found those passages were much clearer, as a result. A lesson learnt.

Brexit – Managing the impact on your policies and procedures

No one yet knows what impact Brexit will have on how UK businesses operate. It seems very likely that the way they export will change. There is a good chance there will be forms to fill in, and other steps to complete, in order to get goods, services and people across borders. This will mean policies and procedures will need to be amended, so that staff carry out these steps in the correct way.

While we do not know yet what those changes will be, organisations can take steps today to ensure they’ll be able to change their policies and procedures documents quickly and easily. They can also start work on having information that is easy to understand and find.

This involves making sure it’s clear who is responsible for each step in the process. You may need to provide a description of the whole process as well as the individual steps themselves. You might also need staff to understand changes quickly, so web or video based content might be better than PDFs or printed manuals.  As is often the case, a modular approach to writing may be the best solution.

See also: Policies and procedures writing services

Another Masters degree course for Technical Authors to consider

In August 2016, we blogged about a new online MSc course in Technical Writing Masters degree course from Cork Institute of Technology. There is another academic course for Technical Authors to consider:  a distance-learning Master of Arts degree in Content Strategy from FH JOANNEUM.

“The programme is designed to meet the needs of working persons and is specially suitable for students who are responsible for corporate digital content in their jobs. The share of online courses is very high, and classroom teaching takes place in blocks four times each semester. Projects can be completed in the framework of your job.”

The pros

  • FH JOANNEUM has arranged for some of the world’s leading content strategist to teach some of the course modules.
  • The teaching element is essentially free to EU citizens – so there’s an incentive for UK citizens to apply in the next two years. There’s a compulsory €19.20 per term ÖH (student union) membership fee.

The cons

  • During the first three semesters, there are two attendance weeks and two attendance weekends per semester in Graz, Austria. In the fourth semester, there is one attendance week and two attendance weekends. The second attendance week in the second semester takes place on a voluntary basis as an excursion – provisionally to London.
  • The Content Strategy programme yields 30 ECTS credits per semester, i.e. 750 hours. This corresponds to a second full-time job when you complete the entire programme in your free time. You can reduce this workload in your free time by integrating projects at work into your course projects.

If you have the time available to commit to the course, then this could be worth doing.

If you want to consider non-academic options, Cherryleaf’s WriteLessons – a range of online courses in technical communication is an alternative approach.

Should you develop a comic instead of a user guide?

Page from Biological Psychology – An illustrated Survival GuideListeners to BBC Radio Four this morning heard a report that a new study by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) discovered comics are a better educational resource than traditional textbooks.

In a related article, called How the humble comic book could become the next classroom superhero, SHU’s Paul Aleixo explained:

“We found that the use of comic books actually enables students to better remember information. Our research showed that the students that read a comic book version got more memory questions correct compared to when the same information was presented in text format alone – or in a combination of random images and text.

This shows that the way comic books are structured – to include a special combination of words and pictures in a certain sequence – increases students’ ability to remember information.”

The key word in the section above is “remember”. The purpose of a user guide is not necessarily to get the reader to remember, but to solve their problem. We want them back working as quickly as possible. Indeed, one of the key principles of Minimalism is “Support reading to do, study, and locate”.

Having said that, there are some interesting findings in the study:

“There are good theoretical reasons why comics might be better at imparting information to students. A lot of which has to do with what the influential cognitive psychologist, Allan Paivio, called “dual-coding theory”. This is the idea that we deal better with material which is presented in both a verbal and a visual manner.”

This means good layout and using graphics will help the readers of user guides.

Certainly for learning materials, comics can be very useful. Indeed, we’ve created a number ourselves.

DITA graphic novel - page 4

What has been your experience of using this medium?