A Few Notes from Usability Testing: Video Tutorials Get Watched, Text Gets Skipped

This week was the first time I’ve actually seen our usability labs used. We have a new usability research group led by someone with years of experience doing usability engineering for Microsoft. I watched in our observation room as he led a handful of users through 60-90 minute usability tests for an application I documented.

What is surprising about usability testing is how much valid information you can gather from so few subjects. With a handful of people unfamiliar with an app who are thoroughly trying to use it, you can find out most of the major problems with the app.

As the usability researcher asked participants to perform various tasks, eventually the participants forayed into the help. I was eagerly waiting for them to click the help icon, and when they did, I was a bit surprised what happened.

New Users Watch Videos, Skip Text

Only a few of the users read the help.  Most just watched the videos. Keep in mind that all of the users were brand new to the app.

With one user, he didn’t realize there were videos at all, as I had them buried in a side option called “screencasts.” Screencasts seemed something similar to screen sharing, he said, so he didn’t click there until later. When he did, he felt that the videos were just what he was looking for in help material.

Another user watched one of the videos twice, and after watching the video, was somewhat successful in completing a task (or at least a lot more successful than before — there were still challenges).

Given the popularity of the videos, I soon stuck all five of the videos right on the home page. Here’s the introductory video that most people watched:

Intermediate Users Skip Videos, Scan Text

Despite the popularity of the videos, I found that videos appeal to different users in different contexts. For more tech savvy users just looking for an answer to a specific question, they were less likely to watch a video and more likely to search/scan the text for answers to their specific questions. Even so, these intermediate users were interested and encouraged by the videos available and sometimes watched one. One user saw the Youtube logo on the videos and immediately said, Cool.

I also noticed that when users did venture into the text, they tended to discover information they hadn’t anticipated. I found this fascinating. I’ve written before that search doesn’t allow you to discover what you aren’t aware of. Most users seemed pretty confident that they already knew how most of the app worked. When they actually read the help, though, there was a lot they didn’t know.

The Help Paradox

Almost invariably, users tried to figure the app out themselves from the interface first before resorting to the help — especially advanced users. In watching users play guessing games, proceed with trial-and-error mentality, and generally click everywhere trying to figure things out, I realized it would have been easier if they viewed several tutorials first before trying to complete the tasks.

One of my colleagues explained that at one company, they did usability testing that involved a laptop, mouse, keyboard, and a 40 page quick reference guide. Of about a dozen users, one person read the entire guide before doing the tests. When this user started on the tests, he moved right through the tasks quickly.

We know this is probably true of software usage. It’s more efficient to read up on how to use the application first before diving into it. Despite this, most of us will resist help until the last resort, and turn to it only when we get stuck. We’ll struggle and struggle and struggle and only after spending 30 minutes or more guessing, then we’ll read the instructions for 5 minutes to figure it out.

One reason, my colleague explained, is that we need a certain context before information in a help file or video becomes relevant. Without having seen the app and wondered, for example, about the use of tags, a video called “About Tags” doesn’t become relevant.

Perhaps on-screen text that contains snippets of instruction, with links to more information in the help, would be a way to move people from the interface into the help.

What’s the Value of Writing?

Overall, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching users, it’s that they prefer video tutorials to text — especially new users. Having come to this conclusion about video, it makes me wonder whether I should be focusing more on video than writing. Maybe I have to reevaluate the importance of written communication? My blog is called, after all, I’d rather be writing. Shouldn’t I change it to something like, I’d rather be creating videos?

One limitation of video is that it’s harder to dive into complexity and sophistication. In writing, you can explain concepts, explore ramifications, analyze, assess, and synthesize all you want. Like in this blog post, for example. I’m doing all kinds of little mental explorations. In a scripted video, however, it’s much harder to do explore a topic in a structured, logical, interesting way. Perhaps videos force you to stick with the basics.

I haven’t tried doing more “thinking” in videos. As a test, I recorded the following short video last night:

As you can see, it’s somewhat rambling and meandering. But would you rather watch the video or read this post? I tried to essentially cover the same material.

Testing Content

My biggest takeaway from usability testing is that it opened up my eyes to the need for testing — not just testing design and functionality, but testing content as well. At Confab, I had breakfast with one of the presenters, Angela Colter, who was presenting on testing content. We test interfaces with all kinds of users, but if people are really interested in content, if that’s what they go to a site for, shouldn’t we be testing content instead? Shouldn’t content be the primary thing we test for, and then design?

I missed Angela’s presentation, but as I recall, she said something to the effect that when they tested content for a group of users, they found the content didn’t answer many of the users’ questions. I’d love to pull about 10 users into a room and have them review the content of a website or help system, based on various goals and questions they have. I don’t know why I haven’t done this before. Now I realize that not doing it for content has the same effect as not doing it for interfaces — you may think it’s fine, but if you’re the one who designed/wrote it, you become blind to its failures.

While the interaction designers’ pride pretty much crumbled while watching users try to use the interface, I imagine technical writers would feel the same way watching a usability test for their help. I have no doubt that users would experience as much or more frustration looking in the help file for various questions and answers. Perhaps this is why we tend to avoid usability testing for our help systems — the reality of how much help fails would be too much burden for us to bear. The results would force us to reassess and reapproach how we do help. Based on my experiences in watching users explore help, videos and on-screen help will now be my top priority.

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By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for the 41st Parameter in San Jose, California. I'm interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication, API documentation, information architecture, web publishing, JavaScript, front-end design, content strategy, Jekyll, and more. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

  • http://ferswriteshoe.wordpress.com/ Fer O’Neil

    Rich Media and video tutorials are becoming more and more important tools for the technical writer. It seems that the important decisions will be when to record or when to write.

    Every support site should have a YouTube channel but as I’ve found working with other tech writers, most companies are still reluctant to take that step.

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Thanks for commenting, Fer. I think that with some planning, you can repurpose written content for video scripts, and vice versa. So it doesn’t always have to be an either/or situation. In my experience, approaching documentation with this dual purpose in mind makes it easier to repurpose documentation for both mediums.

  • Alice Preston

    Hey Tom, nice post. I would suggest that many of us do try to test content — at least to some extent — while performing usability tests. Probably not to the depth we all wish we could get comments on, but at least at the higher level. And after all, what is navigation (or IA) but a set of implemented content decisions?

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Alice, thanks for commenting. I remember our conversation at the Zen Sushi place at STC-Sacramento. I agree that it’s good to think of navigation structure as content. Too often IA gets categorized as something else, but it’s really just content as you say.

  • http://prosekiln.com Melanie

    This is fantastic. I’m constantly mystified by users’ attraction to video. I, and several of my colleagues, always say that we would ALWAYS prefer to read something vs. watch the video! Apparently we’re the exception.

    Since we’re in the process of redoing a lot of our video tutorials at my work, I have to keep this information in mind. It’s great stuff.

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Melanie, thanks for your comment. When learning software, do you still always prefer text? I often prefer text when I’m in the mood to read something. But when I’m learning software, visual forms have more impact for me.

      I think on the whole, at least 60 to 70% of people are visual learners. I frequently hear feedback about making my help material more visual.

    • http://www.fernandohrosa.com.br/en/ Fernando H Rosa

      I agree with you. I always prefer a well written text over a video. Many times when I’m looking for some software tutorial online and seem to have found what I wanted, I am taken to a ‘video tutorial’ and get frustrated because usually I do not have the patience to sit through a 3 to 10 min video to get to the 15 secs bit of information that I need. With a text I can just skip to where I need very quickly.

      Videos also seem frustrating to me because I keep wanting to skip of forward bits of it that I already know or do not need that much detail. Again with text I get control over what I will read in with more detail or dedicate more time to.

  • http://www.mardahl.dk Karen Mardahl

    Don’t forget to caption those videos and make sure that there is adequate explanation in the voice, or you may need transcripts or an audio description.
    Your users can be hard of hearing or deaf, which is the reason for the captions or transcripts. They can also be blind, which is the reason for the transcripts or audio description.
    You want to help your users. Don’t leave users with vision or hearing issues stranded! Angela Colter would be one of the first people to tell you that. :)

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Thanks Karen. I need to add those captions. I just forgot. I have the Word document and everything — just didn’t think of it at the time.

  • Eileen

    I certainly prefer “I’d Rather Be Writing”, but I’m a writer, too, and am biased. I’m sure if you were doing a video podcast you would put more effort into the video than your snippet here. The best video podcasts I’ve seen require multiple takes, a carefully crafted script, and professional videographers.

    I think the YouTube generation expects more multi-media help than we grew up with. Each generation expects something a little bit different.

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Eileen, you’re absolutely right. I made that video without putting forth the same effort as I would with written material. I think we often forget that switching mediums. If I had spent 3 hours making that video, the results probably would have been a lot different.

  • Diana

    If the text is too long, sometimes I wish it was a video because it sort-of a summary, more straight forward. But I guess you can do a combination of the 2. Just stay right in the middle. If you want to discuss the complexity, write it down, and for some quick fix, add a video to your entry. Or make sure that there are videos too in your entry. We are in a vast changing world. Sometimes you have to embrace technology too to keep people interested. But at the same time do what you like and what you know is better, writing. Thanks for the post. Ive learned a lot :)

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Thanks Diana. Mixing video with text is a great technique. I should do it more often. One reason it’s a good idea to mix text with video is for the SEO that text provides. Video is really silent in this area unless you create a special XML file with keywords for this.

  • http://www.bpijournal.com Jim Reardan

    I think this is more proof that we need to accept the truth that our audience is generally more impatient than ever. And I believe our audience expects us to be able to deliver “help” in a variety of formats, especially since they generally perceive the creation effort to be relatively simple and inexpensive.

    Quality aside, anyone with an iPhone or iPad can create text documentation, brilliant photos, screenshots, videos, and audio. If we, as professional communicators, can’t or won’t demonstrate basic competence in multimedia content creation, we risk being seen as lazy or antiquated.

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Jim, thanks for your insight. I agree that our audience expects content to appear in multiple formats, without any extra effort. This is probably because they have similar expectations about applications appearing in each version of mobile (iOS, Android, BlackBerry), browser (Firefox, IE, Chrome), and on each type of OS (linux, windows, mac).

  • Chris Ninkovich

    Another great post, Tom.

    I developed several training videos at my previous company and they were a huge hit with our customers! We received more positive feedback on the videos than we ever had for our Help files and other documentation.

    Although I think videos are a great teaching tool and are an essential tool to slip into your Tech Writer’s tool belt, like a poster above me said, we need to know when to create videos and when to write. There’s a time and place for both.


    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      I know I elevated video a lot in this post, but I didn’t mean to dismiss writing as relevant. I agree there is a time and place for both types of documentation. Content should be repurposed for both formats to get the maximum leverage out of it.

  • Mike Hughes

    I think part of the problem is we have a work culture that feels like time in training is time away from work. We don’t feel like we are “on task” when we are reading the manual. How many training sessions end “Well, time to get back to work?” I truly believe that accounts for some of the reason people avoid Help until truly desperate. Bad Help accounts for some of it too :-)

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      That’s a good reason to move help directly into the interface. That way, users don’t feel like they’re getting off task.

      • John Barnes


        Regarding help on the interface, in the “good old days”, Microsoft help had a perfectly good popup context help system that allowed you to have links into the main help file. When HTML came along, that went because it ws too difficult to do initially in HTML. Now it seems the whole thing is being reinvented again, but badly, if Microsoft’s “help” is anything to go by…

  • http://www.describewriting.com Maeve

    Hi Tom,

    Did the video length influence to how long the beginners watched? I’m wondering if there is a preferred or optimum length for Help videos. My instinct is short = good. But a client recently insisted the length is irrelevant (10 minutes is okay) if the content is engaging. I see his point, but I’m still not convinced.


    Thanks for the great post.


    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      I think 3 minutes is ideal for a video. I usually say 3-5 min. or less. I myself lose patience after 3 min. 10 minutes is an eternity. You can probably break it up into several smaller videos.

      • Allison Hendrix

        Four years later, I’m not sure these comments are still monitored, but the update discussion could be useful.

        I’m 22 and about to graduate in technical writing; as part of the generation growing up on technological advances, my two cents might be valuable. I’m a skim and search type. There’s just too much content on the internet to be thorough. Sifting for what’s relevant is becoming a necessary skill, and I see a definite correlation between age and the degree of this skill; my 14 year old sister can sift content as fast as I can comprehend it.

        Accordingly, conciseness is extremely important in both writing and videos. If a video answers my question faster than I can by sifting content, I’m all for it. I’m impressed if it’s under a minute long, and I’ll watch up to two minutes, but once it hits three or more, I’ll probably play it in the background while I sift and search.

        This is the key: Today we have extraordinary access to entertainment, so we don’t need nearly as much in mundane things. We’d rather get it done quickly, and then spend our time on entertainment we really enjoy.

  • http://www.webworks.com/ Tony McDow

    Hi Tom,

    Nice story and great observations. I would point out that a usability study of new users learning an application is but a small part of the complete picture of how user’s help themselves.

    I think if you were to follow users of an application over the lifetime of a project, you might see a different set of results, one that would probably balance out the needs between video and text. My experience is that videos are great when showing a set of steps in a complex interface, but they could never replace a well written set of help docs.

    So by all means, please don’t change the name of your blog! :-)

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      I think videos are more suited to first time users, and written documentation is more suitable for users who are looking for answers to specific questions. This means that users prefer different forms of help at different experience levels with the app.

  • http://everypageispageone.blogspot.com Mark Baker

    Hi Tom,

    I’ve had a couple of chances to observe usability testing, and it is a fascinating experience. However, I would raise a note of caution about the behavior you observed in this case. A usability test is a controlled experiment, deliberately structured to test a specific object. Because it creates an artificial situation in which to observe one thing, it is important not to draw conclusions base on observations outside the design parameters of the experiment.

    This experiment was designed to test the usability of the interface. User preferences for documentation were outside the parameters of the experimental design. I can think of at least three major factors which make the observations of the users choice of help unreliable in this test environment.

    First, the users were outside of their normal social context. They did not have access to Fred in the corner cubicle who always knows how tech stuff works. In real life, they might prefer to ask Fred rather than to watch a video or read text. (I don’t know if they had Internet access in the usability lab, but the Web gives people access to all the Freds in the world — many other information sources they might prefer to the help.)

    Second, the users were not under deadline pressure from a real world job. Part of the paradox of help is that people under pressure often do not take the time to learn, but look of immediate answers. In real life, they might feel they don’t have time to watch a video and dive straight into the text. (Counter-productive behavior, perhaps, but that is why it is a paradox. Short cuts usually take longer, but we still take short cuts when we are in a hurry.)

    Third, people behave differently when they know they are being observed. We even lie on anonymous surveys. People may think the experimenter will think better of them is they use the help. Some may assume they are supposed to use all the resources they have been given, including videos. They might not use the help at all, or might not watch the videos, if not observed. If the internet is available, they might assume they are not supposed to use it.

    I’m not asserting that they would actually behave differently in their natural habitat. For all I know, they might not want to be seen reading the help when observed, but would use it when not observed. My point is, the experiment was not constructed to give you a good read on their help use preferences, and you shouldn’t draw any firm conclusions without running an experiment specifically designed to test help preferences.

    On the subject of video, I’m not convinced that users necessarily prefer video over text any more today than they did thirty years ago. All that we may be observing is the effect of video being available at the click of a button in the environment they are already working in. Thirty years ago, there were lots of instructional videos, but to watch them you had to find a tape, find a TV with a VCR, load the tape, and fast forward the the section you wanted to watch, watch, rewind, put the tape away, and turn off the TV and VCR. That’s a lot of work compared to reading a written procedure, and so people would turn to video less often.

    I don’t think video will take the place of text, but I think it will carve out its appropriate niche now that the cost of making and viewing videos has fallen far enough to make it practical to use if for more purposes. But I still don’t want an API reference as a video.

    Point is, there is a natural balance between different forms of communication — conversation, topics, books, videos. This balance is based on both applicability and availability. Applicability may not have changed at all, but availability has changed radically, and so the balance shifts radically, and we need to adjust. The balance is shifting, but there is still a place for everything in the balance.

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Mark, thanks for your analysis. I agree that anytime you observe someone, they act differently. This is Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in action. And I agree that in a real environment, users are more apt to ask their neighbor, or to act differently given pressures of time.

      But in this study, watching users light up when they saw the videos each time, and seeing how they immediately moved to them — it was completely convincing to me. Videos are a prime form of help material that users seem to prefer and like.

      I’m not sure you could ever construct a usability study to avoid the factors that you mentioned. You’d need to install an invisible web cam in someone’s office and make notes throughout the month. Even giving users a scenario is somewhat false, because who’s to say that they would ever have that scenario in real life?

      Usability testing does have some constraints that will make the actions vary a bit from real life, but it’s close enough. Done right, you can gather valid feedback that will be informative and useful. From watching these users, I concluded that brand new users seemed to prefer video hands-down to text.

      I honestly think that tech comm has placed way too much emphasis on written instruction over the years. This is primarily because many technical writers are *writers* so we prefer the written word ourselves and enjoy writing. But if you look at the popularity of resources such as lynda.com, it’s hard to argue with the popularity of video. Video more closely aligns with learning software because software is such a visual experience. Being able to see how to do a task, or how something works, taps into the visual learning preferences that are predominant among most users.

      • http://everypageispageone.blogspot.com Mark Baker

        Hi Tom,

        I agree, it is virtually impossible to construct an experiment to see how users access information in their natural environment. To that extent, we are always working blind.

        Back when I was doing my education degree, I heard or read about a study that was done in a classroom. First, a teacher stood unmoving in front of the class and gave a set of instructions verbally. Half the class completed the instructions without difficulty, and the other half were unable to do so. Then they did a second experiment in which the teacher remained silent but walked through each of the actions the students were to perform. Again, half the students were able to follow the instructions — the other half.

        Some people learn visually, some verbally. Videos clearly can support those who learn by watching. Books have a harder time with this. I do think that replacing one complex picture with a series of simple pictures (something you have talked about) can help a lot in this area. So can writing in a visual style. Still, video clearly has an advantage here.

        That leaves a couple of interesting questions though. First, is the Gen Z preference for video a preference for the media itself, or is it a matter or those who learn visually at last being on a more even footing with their verbal-learner colleagues, whom the school system has so long favored? Would they prefer a talking-head video over a written passage (both verbal). And are there, in fact, still verbal learner among them who would prefer written instruction over visual demonstration?

        Second, what does this say about the preference for video among new users which you posit? Are we actually more inclined to visual learning as novices, and to verbal learning as we become more advanced. Or is it simply that advanced subjects require the mastery of concepts that cannot easily be presented visually. Or is it that visual and verbal learners self select career paths that favor their learning style, so that few visual learners end up in advanced pursuit of verbal material?

        It would not at all surprise me if technical writers have an inherent preference for verbal over visual communication. Most of us went to school at a time when verbal learners were greatly favored by the school system. It was how we were taught, and therefore how most of us are disposed to teach.

        I don’t actually know if the school system has begun to redress the balance between visual and verbal learners. As a visual learner myself, I hope so, because I think the schools have cruelly under-served half their students for decades.

        What worries me is that we may now see a flood of verbal videos produced by verbal-learning tech writers. Communicating visually isn’t just about media.

        • http://thoughtshots.com William Chinda

          Interesting thoughts, Mark. I’m not sure you can classify (most) videos as a purely visual experience, though. The benefit of video with narration is that it reaches the viewer through multiple channels (visual & verbal) at the same time, so you get the benefits inherent to multimedia learning.

  • idratherbepodcasting

    I know Tom, that you’ve been writing, reading and talking a lot about screen casting and video casting. You’ve written about developing a ‘voice’ for screencasting. Finding the voice. Overcoming the awkwardness we all have as we transition to new roles or simply by complete practicality of what we do. The results speak for themselves. I was blown away by the quality of the screen cast. I’ve heard your very first podcast in 2006 and then listening to this screencast was astounding. Vocals were smooth crisp, clear, balanced. Screen action and voice aligned. You’ve got to step back and really look at all of this in perspective. Good work! An inspiration

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Thanks for the feedback on watching the screencast. I definitely used my podcasting skills in creating these videos. Personally, I feel that I can take these to another level of quality, but currently they seem to be good enough for their purpose, which is to teach users.

  • Ted Boren

    Mark makes some good points. It would be interesting to see if video usage increases on the live site after you release changes. That would help you assess whether changes you made as a result of the test made an impact in the video’s desirability and usefulness, regardless of any impact the testing scenario may have had on performance during the test.

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Thanks Ted. I can see that I still have a long way to go to convince my tech comm audience about the superiority of video as a means for technical instruction to new users. I’m not sure what sort of test I would need to do. Perhaps analyze metrics of page hits over a long period of time?

  • http://thoughtshots.com William Chinda

    A fascinating post, as always. Based on the other comments here I seem to be coming into this from the opposite direction. My degree is Instructional Technology, where a good deal of my coursework surrounded the creation of interactive e-learning courses. I graduated at the height of the recession, so in an attempt to show employers what I could do, I started posting screencast tutorials to YouTube. The videos were completely scripted out, so I decided to post the scripts as articles on my blog as well (also, it didn’t hurt my SEO).

    Lo and behold, 9 months later I got a job as a Technical Writer (though my job responsibilities also include developing e-learning). Though it’s not a huge shift from what (IMO) is my core expertise, I’m still learning the ropes and trying to fight some of the tendencies I developed making content for YouTube. My initial desire when working on a documentation project is to simplify as much as possible and cut out all of the messy details, and I occassionally have to be reminded that the help documentation IS the messy details.

    Ultimately, I think whatever delivery medium you choose (be it text, video, interactive, live training, social media, etc.) comes down to what the user requires. You can’t expect users to just accept hundred page printed manuals simply because you’ve decreed it to be the only way you’re willing to work. I can certainly attest to the difficulties of change, but simply working in a different medium doesn’t mean all of your prior experiences don’t apply.

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Interesting shift. I think that coming from an instructional design background, you probably moved from more multimedia instructional materials to written materials. Hopefully you bring the best of both worlds to bear for the scenario you’re creating help for. Just curious, but which do you enjoy more — instructional design or tech writing? Why did you make the transition?

      • http://thoughtshots.com William Chinda

        Hi Tom,

        My original comment was a roundabout way of saying that even multimedia content still demands a lot of writing and planning, so I think there are similar skillsets involved in both activities. I didn’t give a lot of thought to making the transition, except “yeah, that sounds like something I can do”. :)

        To your question, I enjoy doing both, because each task has its own interesting challenges and quirks.

  • George Abraham

    We now live in a world of software/apps that are intutive and do not have the risk of exploding or harming us in any way if we do it the wrong way. This could be one of the reasons why users start off without reading anything.

    Couple of decades ago, a user trying to assemble or use a mechanical/electrical device without reading the user manual risked damaging the device itself :)

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      I agree that many users prefer the trial and error method for learning because, as you say, software interfaces have become more intuitive and foolproof. I guess I’m too young to have seen the evolution of software interfaces move from DOS to Windows to Touchscreen.

  • http://www.technicallywriteit.com Patrice Fanning

    Thanks Tom for your interesting post and the discussion it’s triggered. I agree that video is a great tool for new users as it quickly introduces them to the basics of a piece of software and helps to set expectations. However, as users begin to work with the software and develop their level of expertise, they tend to have specific questions about the more complex functions and features of the software. The answers to these questions will invariably be delivered in written (and easily searchable) documentation. Therefore, video does not and will not replace written documentation – the two simply compliment each other as part of an overall help and learning strategy.

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Patrice, I totally agree with you about this. New users prefer video initially; later, as they have specific questions, they prefer text because they’re searching for a specific answer to a problem. I couldn’t make this assertion in my post from the usability study, though, because all the users were new to the app. It would be interesting to bring them all back in after a few months to see if their behavior changed. My guess is that more advanced users are less likely to use help at all.

  • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

    I just wanted to thank everyone for commenting so much on this post. Your comments were enriching and insightful. Sorry that it took me a while to respond.

  • http://www.widerfunnel.com Raquel Hirsch

    Great post – and fantastic comments.

    A lot of people have pointed out that you do not really know whether or not video will work *in this case* unless you test.

    Well, here is some data from test results for you.

    We are a conversion optimization testing company and our recent blog post “3 Lessons From My 1st WiderFunnel Test” (here http://bit.ly/oO1ifz) we outline the results of a test where we determined whether or not *this client* should use video (the full case study is coming)

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Raquel, thanks for pointing me to your post. Interesting study. The scenarios are somewhat different — in mine, a user is trying to figure out how to use the app. In yours, you’re trying to increase trial downloads of an app. But still, very insightful. From what I understand, the screenshot was more preferable to the video. Both are still visual mediums. Another test I want to run is to compare a video with a visual quick reference guide.

  • Tricia

    Great post!
    I agree with some of the other commenters in that my personal training preference is text rather than video. However, I think this is due to the fact that I am a notorious “skimmer” when it comes to long texts. Even though a video condenses the material into more relevant information, I can’t get past the fact that I can’t skim a video. I would rather skip over an irrelevant paragraph in the text than listen to 15 seconds of irrelevant audio material.
    That is just me, though, because it is evident that a majority of users prefer videos!

    • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

      Thanks for your comment. We should remember that it’s not an either/or situation. You can provide both video and text. Most likely you’ll have a script for the video. Why not just add it below the video? I haven’t done that yet, but I should (in addition to captioning and translating it).

      • http://shawndowler.com Shawn Dowler

        Even better would be if clicking on the text would jump to the part of the video where the text is spoken. This interface would be similar to how Pear Note handles navigating the recorded audio by allowing users to click on the text notes they typed at that point of the recording. http://www.usefulfruit.com/pearnote/

  • http://www.altinalalim.com altın kolye

    Thank you admin..

  • http://www.widerfunnel.com Raquel Hirsch

    In case you are interested, you can find 29 Conversion Optimization Testing Case Studies here http://bit.ly/qV6Sin

  • Yael

    Thank you for the great post!
    I was wondering if from your experience, it matters whether the video tutorials are narrated or not (maybe some background music but no narration)? Also, does it make a difference whether the narration is professional or not (maybe done by members of our local team for example)?

    We have experimented with some video tutorials in the past which were professionally recorded and narrated. The downside is that it is expensive and difficult to update or modify when new software release is available (most are even irrelevant now). A set of simple unnarrated screencasts of some of the common tasks, maybe with some annotations but nothing more would probably be a lot easier to maintain. Would this be as helpful to new users as a narrated video would be?

  • Amy

    Great post. I’m a technical writer and have sent a link to this post to my manager and colleagues. We haven’t done any screencasts. What software do you use to create screencasts?

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  • Marisa

    This is so interesting to me! I am currently working towards my Master’s degree in Tech. Comm. at Montana Tech and I am exploring the idea of writing my thesis on the topic of the need for more research into multimodal communication. (Because of this trend for video tutorials over textual ones!) While searching for articles on this subject I came across your blog.

    I was also tickled to notice that I know that website in the first screenshot! Ha ha! (I got my undergrad at BYU-I).

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