Improving an Existing Documentation Project (2 of 3)

Improving an Existing Documentation Project (2 of 3)

Javier Hernandez · February 28, 2023

Now that we know the current status of our documentation better (See Part 1), it is time to talk about our users. Why? Because we have created the documentation for them to be able to use our products, platforms, or tools.

But what do we know about our users' needs? Who are they? We may all have assumptions about them. But in fact, we know nothing most of the time. A user survey is an excellent method to discover what our users perceive and use our docs, understand their current needs, and decide what to improve first. Read the following steps and learn how to prepare your user survey.

Step 1 - Design a User Survey

To design a user survey we need to know what to ask. But language is tricky so even if we are technical writers, we should double-check the survey's questions with another colleague (and a UX designer, if possible).

About the following questions take them as a reference to create your own survey:

  1. In which team/product do you work?
  2. What is your role?
  3. How (un)familiar are you with the [Write your documentation name here] documentation?
    • Not at all familiar.
    • Slightly familiar.
    • Somewhat familiar.
    • Moderately familiar.
    • Extremely familiar.
  4. How often do you read the [Write your documentation name here] documentation?
    • Never.
    • From time to time.
    • A few times a month.
    • Monthly.
    • Weekly.
    • I don't even close that tab.
  5. Which topics are you looking for in the [Write your documentation name here]?
  6. How (un)satisfied are you with the [Write your documentation name here] documentation?
    • Very unsatisfied.
    • Unsatisfied.
    • Neutral.
    • Satisfied.
    • Very satisfied.
  7. Please explain briefly why you are (un)satisfied with the [Write your documentation name here] documentation.
  8. How (un)useful do you find the [Write your documentation name here] documentation?
    • Not useful at all.
    • Not useful.
    • Neutral.
    • Useful.
    • Very useful.
  9. Explain briefly why you consider the [Write your documentation name here] documentation (un)useful.
  10. Do you bookmark the [Write your documentation name here] pages you need?
    • Never.
    • I only bookmark the topics I need.
    • I bookmark [Write your documentation name here] main topics only.
    • I bookmark the [Write your documentation name here] home page only.
    • Always.
  11. Please let us know to what extent the following statements apply to you personally:
    • When I need to find some information on a page, I make CTRL+F:
      • Never.
      • Rarely.
      • Sometimes.
      • Often.
      • Always.
    • When I need to find some information on the [Write your documentation name here] pages, I scroll:
      • Never.
      • Rarely.
      • Sometimes.
      • Often.
      • Always.
  12. How often do you use the [Write your documentation name here] page Search box:
    • Never.
    • Rarely.
    • Sometimes.
    • Often.
    • Always.
  13. Regarding the content of a page, what do you prefer?
    • A plain content structure - No tabs, no accordions. All the information is shown at once.
    • A plain content structure containing some visual elements and disclosing content progressively.
  14. Which topics would like to find in the [Write your documentation name here]?
  15. If you were to make one suggestion for improving the [Write your documentation name here] pages, what would it be?
    • Better visual design.
    • Content should be more comprehensible.
    • Content should be easier to find.
    • Others (Develop your answer).

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Daniela Diener and Roksana Skryzcka for reviewing the initial survey.

Why These Questions?

Design your questions according to the topic you want feedback about for example: user browsing behavior, page layout preferences, missing topics, etc.

To know which type of feedback we are addressing with the sample survey of this page, read the following table:

Type of feedbackQuestion NumberExplanation
Your users (role, team/product)1, 2Knowing the role, team or product of our users, helps us to identify:Our audience.Which role/teams are reading our docs the most This information can lead us to develop role or team/product focused documentation, or address specific issues or lack of interest impacting the documentation.
Awareness by role, and team/product3, 4If our platform, toolset. product or project has a lot of people using it, checking the awareness level is a must to double check that our people know where to find the documentation they need, and that we have prepared for them.
Frequent of use3Anwers to this question will tell us if our documentation are being use and how much. Knowing this, we can take further actions to deepen the engagement, or reinforce it if the docs are not being checked frequently.
Topics of interest4Too many times we create the docs that we think would be of use for our users. This question will tell us if we are right, and which topics need to be revamped (or removed).
Level of (un)satisfaction5, 6A satisfied user is another word for useful docs (and product!). A low level of satisfaction gives us the chance to ask Why?, and find the source of that unsatisfaction.
Usefulness perception7, 8We can think that our documentation is useful but, again, our users will either confirm it or deny it. Another opportunity to improve.
Access point to our documentation9Sometimes we think that our users access directly our documentation typing the url in the browser. This question will tell us about the bookmarking habits of our users bookmark. With that in mind, we will have a better idea of the impacts of changing any page or section name taht could probably be bookmarked. Here, an effective and reliable communication strategy for changes is key.
Browsing and searching behaviors10, 11Browsing and searching behavior have a decisive impact on how we will design our pages, and which visual elements can be used. For example, using collapsible elements may cause troubles to CTRL+F users that, for example, work with Chrome.
Reading behaviors10, 11, 12Same as previous topic.
Direct Improvements13, 14This is the open-air gold mine. Users will you what they want and see as a positive impact for the docs.

MS Forms

Use any survey creation tool that fits your needs. I used MS Forms because it was available and provided an easy way to:

  • Visualize the number of participants.
  • Provide different kind of diagrams to visualize the results of the questions.
  • Download the results in a consumable Excel format.
  • Easily share the survey.

Step 2 - Schedule the Survey

Scheduling the survey at the right time is as important as the survey itself. We are all focused on providing value to our projects and don't want to get distracted.

So check in advance with the required roles (POs normally), the best date and time to run the survey.

If your users are not your teammates, Customer Support or an equivalent department may be the ones to seek.

When discussing the time for the survey, remember to:

  1. Share the objectives of the survey.
  2. Set the time available to complete the survey.
  3. Explain the importance and benefits of their collaboration.
  4. Ask them to request all team members to attend the meeting.
  5. Try to not interrupt their workflow.

Tip: For agile product development teams, including the survey during the daily or retrospective meeting seems the right time.

Step 3 - Survey Time

Don't forget to introduce yourself during the interview and:

  1. Present the documentation improvement project: What, Why, and How.
  2. Explain the importance of improving the docs.
  3. Explain the structure of the survey.
  4. Release the survey!

To Be Continued…

What`s Next?

In the next article, we will analyze the results of the survey and highlight the most important of them. Are you ready?

Javier Hernandez

Technical Writer @ Lisbon