New article in Simplifying Complexity: Reconstructing the absent user
Here’s a brief summary of the article:
To write good documentation, you have to follow the most fundamental rule of writing: know your reader. The problem in tech comm is that the reader (or “user”) is absent, and there aren’t any direct measurable outcomes when users interact with the documentation. Consequently, tech writers suffer from lack of user knowledge and feedback, which cripples the ability to write good documentation.
Writing good documentation requires you to reconstruct the absent user through a number of techniques — web analytics, embedded surveys, milestone completions, support tickets, satisfaction surveys, and more. It is an iterative process where layers of information get added little by little to form an image of the user, like a 3D printer slowly building a face. By acquiring and analyzing this user knowledge, you can start to create documentation that meets user’s needs. This user knowledge, though mostly qualitative, provides the best measure for documentation.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle 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.