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What's Convenient Gets Used -- a General Principle That Applies to Nearly Everything

by Tom Johnson on Sep 17, 2008 •
categories: technical-writing

Recently I switched from using the iRiver I bought two years ago to my wife's iPod Nano, which she only uses intermittently. I don't know why I used my iRiver for so long. The iPod is superior in every way, but mostly because it offers convenience. For example,

  • New podcasts download automatically when I merely plug it in to my computer and click Sync.
  • Its small size allows me to clip it onto my belt and easily hide the headphones in my pocket.
  • I can quickly toggle between music and podcasts.
  • When I stop a podcast half way in the middle, the iPod remembers where I left off the next time I return to it.

I have my BlackBerry clipped onto the left side of my belt and the iPod Nano clipped onto the right. Yes, it feels nerdy, but it's also extremely convenient. If I had to dig the iPod out of my backpack every time I wanted to listen to a podcast, or if I had to sit there every morning downloading podcasts, I'd be much less likely to listen. But by making podcasts extremely convenient, I plow through more episodes now than ever.

There's a lesson to learn here: Don't underestimate the importance of convenience. If you want to increase the usage of your help material, increase its convenience. Make your help context-sensitive. Provide a one-page quick reference guide. Give the user a search field that returns accurate results, etc. The long printed manual is going out of style not because it's ugly or long, but because it's inconvenient.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.

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