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As someone who doesn't get paid to write stuff nobody reads :), I'm always on the lookout for the best ways to collect meaningful and actionable feedback from my readers so I can improve the quality of the docs I write. What kind of strategies/tools/etc. do you guys use for this?

EDIT: Let me clarify what I mean by "meaningful and actionable feedback":

  • To get meaningful feedback from our readers:

    • We must focus only on the most important issues from the readers' point of view.
    • We must ask only the fewest possible number of questions that can cover all of these important issues.
    • The terminology we use must be clearly and universally understood by all respondents.
  • For feedback to be actionable, it must meet the following criteria:

    • The readers' responses must be unambiguous.
    • The issues that the respondents are concerned about must be easily understood and easily addressable by the people the feedback is intended for.
  • It is good practice to have reviews incorporated in the documentation process. That may be a place to start? – Bookeater Jan 28 '18 at 15:19
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    Could you expand on who your readers are, and what sort of feedback you expect? As @Bookeater suggests, incorporating a review process as part of developing your documents is important. However, I understand your question to be more about user (reader) behavior analysis, and about strategies for entering into some sort of dialogue with the reader aiming to improve the overall quality. – Paul Wicking Jan 28 '18 at 16:01
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    I'm not referring to content reviews before the docs go out, I'm talking about getting feedback about the doc quality from the readers after the docs go out. – Yoel Jan 29 '18 at 9:40
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    Good thing you defined "actionable", it means something very different in British English. – Chenmunka Jan 30 '18 at 9:11
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Online docs for customers

The absolute first for online docs: analytics and some sort of feedback form.

  • Analytics (such as Google Analytics) let you gather and explore reader data - anything from demographic information to search patterns and behavior patterns. However, this data is often tricky to interpret and requires a lot of observation, trial, and error to get results.
  • Feedback forms (be it a way to send email or a rating form or even a discussion board). The key here is to keep it very simple and very easy to send feedback. For example: a question or two, some sort of star rating, the option to submit a free-worded comment. You will tend to get mostly negative feedback (people are just prone to sending feedback when they're unhappy) - but it is usually the thing that drives positive change. You will also get non-docs feedback at times, especially in end-user oriented documentation (people will complain about the product).

You can then build on from there with targeted surveys shown to readers under certain conditions or sent to particular customers through your customer success channels.

Offline docs for customers

Perhaps a questionnaire distributed along the docs (not likely to be very successful). Another way would be to use your customer success management people to reach out to customers and facilitate docs interviews with them.

Anything internal - online or offline

Face to face interviews plus feedback solicited through an official review process.

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    In general, the Google analytics option is a good one, but only for online docs. In my previous place of employment, the docs were used in sensitive locations, behind a firewall, so we couldn't do any analytics that way. Where I am now, readers prefer to print out copies so they can stick them on their walls, next to where they work with the hardware. – Yoel Jan 29 '18 at 9:42
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    Feedback forms, IMHO, are the key element here. If I can contact my readers via the customer support people (an active "pull" approach rather than a passive "push" approach, waiting for the readers to be annoyed enough to send negative feedback :)), then I stand a good chance of getting some feedback I can use. – Yoel Jan 29 '18 at 9:49
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    There are other options for implementing in-house analytics solutions (that is for the case with docs behind a firewall/login/etc.). However, they require some dev work on your side, and might be tricky to implement, if you're using a ready solution to deliver the docs (such a CMS). Regarding feedback forms - don't rely solely on Support for the outreach. You can utilize Marketing, Customer Success Management, and even Consulting teams to facilitate the communication for you. – Iva Koevska Jan 29 '18 at 9:51
  • For docs distributed off line, I've found our user support to be valuable. Calls about the same issue were usually a sign that documentation was either hard-to-find, inaccurate, or unclear. – Scribblemacher Feb 6 '18 at 17:51
4

I'd recommend identifying your 'power users' and work directly with them.

As in all situations the people your documentation is aimed at will differ. Those that do not read at all, those that refer to the documentation only after all else failed, and on the other side of the spectrum the guys that read the new release cover to cover and send you a memo pointing out every single typo and then some.

If the no-readers are on the left and the memo responders are on the right you need the rightist middle ground. Long-time users deeply entrenched in the subject matter that help out the newbies would be ideal. I called them power users but a more precise/formal term might be Business Analyst if that is actually a position in your company.

Now you need to find one or more guys with this skill set able AND willing to sit down for a thorough analysis of the document you want to tackle. Be prepared for feedback that another document needs attention more urgently and/or other suggestions quite out of the box.

How to find them? Any sort of user organisation will know, or more likely have such a person as chair.

In my experience this is the fastest and most effective method to push your output to the next level (and beyond).

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This depends somewhat on the audience. You could have internal corporate docs that can only be viewed by coworkers, publicly available docs that everyone can see, etc. Certainly a comments section is a good start, as is contact information for personalized support.

Generally there is also a review process to get the docs published in the first place. This is best handled by making review and sign-off a requirement that is enforced by project management, and not an informal process.

For example, if you are using a project management system like Jira, Remedy, etc. the item should be added to the task for the SME or someone similar and only closed out once that review process has been completed.

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  • It's not the internal review process I'm concerned about - we have very good processes for that. What I'm looking for is ideas for collecting meaningful and actionable feedback from the end-user readers. – Yoel Jan 29 '18 at 9:45

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