Tag Archives: survey

Survey says: DITA’s benefits and challenges

DITA SurveyWhat are DITA‘s biggest benefits? Its greatest challenges?

The Content Wrangler is surveying DITA users, and last week Scott Abel — joined by DITA cognoscenti Rob Hanna,Mark Lewis, and Keith Schengili-Roberts — presented some preliminary results.

I’ve listed the rankings here, along with some thoughts of my own. Each numbered item is from Scott’s presentation; the commentary between the numbered items is mine.

(The survey is still accepting responses. If you haven’t yet weighed in, you can do so right now.)

What benefits does DITA provide?

This section was open to all respondents.

1, Consistency: content reuse/single-sourcing
Yes: when I think of single-sourcing, I think of consistency. But I also think about flexibility — of being able to publish the same content on the web, as integrated help, as PDF, and in other formats. For me that’s a big benefit, just as much as — and probably more than — consistency.

2. Usability: structure provides predictability

3. Translation: savings from reusing translation
The panelists remarked that they expected this one to score higher, and theorized that many of the survey respondents were content creators but were not the people actually responsible for translation. I think they’re probably right — and I’d also point out that a lot of organizations simply don’t translate their content. It would be interesting if the survey asked how many are currently translating DITA content.

4. Customization: segmentation, personalization
Nice to see this one crack the top 4. I think we (the community of DITA content producers) are just beginning to take advantage of features like metadata and keys. There’s so much more we can do to adapt content based on the audience’s geographic location, experience level, and so forth. (Key scopes and branch filtering in DITA 1.3 hold out even more promise.)

Rank the biggest challenges associated with using DITA

This section was open to respondents who said they use DITA.

1. Reuse: determining reuse strategy
Conref or keyref? What taxonomy to use, and where to put the metadata (in topics or in maps)? Who “owns” the library of reusable content? There doesn’t seem to be much consensus on best practices when it comes to developing a reuse strategy. Maybe, like the consultants always say, it depends — on what the writing team is
used to, on which groups are collaborating to produce content, and on what the corporate culture will support.

2. Usage: making DITA do what we want it to do

3. Training: equipping staff with skills needed
DITA logoThere’s a ton of training out there — in the basics of structured authoring, in DITA itself, and in the various tools. So I’m not sure what the problem is, unless it’s that companies don’t want to pay for training and want simply to hire people who already know everything (see #7 below). Even if you could hire fully-capable DITA writers off the street (and that’s a big if), they still need to be trained in how to use your local style, transforms, and so forth.

4. Technology: understanding software

5. Formatting: developing stylesheets and rules for content
This isn’t rocket science, but it is serious, hard work. It’s often not considered when companies plan a transition to DITA — which makes it even harder.

6. Governance: enforcing the rules
See number 5 above.

7. Staffing: finding experienced talent

8. Creation: understanding how to create DITA content

9. Measurement: what to measure, how to decide
Let’s be honest: rather than what to measure, don’t we really mean making the business case? We still struggle to quantify the cost savings and revenue enhancement associated with structured authoring and DITA. Translation savings, of course, are a big part of the story. But increased usability, customization, and brand consistency have value too. We just have a hard time quantifying their value.

10. Translation: issues associated with DITA content

So there you have it. What do you think? Do any of the rankings surprise you? Is anything missing from either list?

Do you agree with my take?

Thanks to Scott Abel for conducting the survey. Like so much of what he does, it’s of great value to the technical writing community. Thanks to Rob, Mark, and Keith for their contributions as well.

DITA satisfaction: Take the survey

Want to know why people are using DITA? Want more insight into the challenges as well as the benefits?

DITA Survey bannerHere’s a way to get those insights — and do The Content Wrangler a favor in the process. The Content Wrangler, the online persona of Scott Abel, has been for many years a leading voice in the worlds of content marketing and technical communication.

If you’re using DITA, if you’re evaluating it, or if you’re in the process of adopting it, take the 5-minute DITA Satisfaction Survey.

The results, which will be sent to you when the survey is over, will provide helpful data about what people see as the main reasons for using DITA as well as its risks and challenges.

The data will benefit individual DITA users and the DITA community as a whole. It’ll equip us to respond to common problems and complaints, and it’ll inform the DITA Technical Committee about what changes and enhancements are most needed.

Take the survey by May 15 and you’ll be entered into a drawing for Google Cardboard.

Watch out for Survey McSurvface

If you want to improve your product’s documentation — or the whole user experience — there’s a tried and true technique: do a survey. At least that’s what we’ve always been told.

Let me tell you a couple of stories.

The boat

boaty

Come to think of it, “HMS Coke Can” might be a more suitable name. (Source: Natural Environment Research Council)

Earlier this week the British government, in the person of Science Minister Jo Johnson, announced that its new research vessel will not be christened Boaty McBoatface, even though that name won an Internet poll with 4 times as many votes as the runner-up.

Evoking memories of Graham Chapman’s Colonel, Johnson declared that the winning name was simply too silly and that a more “suitable” name will be chosen instead.

The bridge

Much the same thing happened in 2006 when Stephen Colbert, in his Comedy Central days, encouraged his viewers to vote in an online contest to name a bridge in Hungary.

megyeri.jpg

The Almost-Colbert Bridge (Source: Wikimedia Commons / Civertan)

Stephen Colbert Bridge won, garnering more votes than there are people in Hungary. Things hit a snag when Hungary’s ambassador to the U.S. good-naturedly informed Colbert that in order to be honored, he would need to be (a) fluent in Hungarian and (b) dead.

Today the bridge is known as Megyeri Bridge because it connects two towns whose names end in -megyer. I’m not sure that’s better than Colbert Bridge. But I’m not Hungarian so I guess it’s none of my business.

The moral of both stories? Surveys and polls can be entertaining. But their results aren’t always useful.

Your customers

Now I know that nobody is going to turn your customer survey into a prank. Still, when you ask your customers what they want, they don’t always know. Their responses likely will be knee-jerk, not reflective of careful thought.

Want a better index? Sure, that sounds good. Bigger icons? Why not? Soon you’ve got a lot of “results” that you can turn into action plans. Yet you’ve missed the issues that truly affect the UX.

The solution? Don’t ask your customers what they want. Instead, ask them how they actually use the product, and ask them what things give them trouble. Do they have difficulty finding the instructions they need? Are the instructions relevant to their work situations? Are there product features that go unused because they’re hard to set up and maintain?

When you ask your customers how they really use your product, then you can use your own know-how to decide how best to make their lives easier.

There’s an even better way, although it’s harder than administering a survey. If you can observe your customers at work, if you can see for yourself where they succeed and where they struggle, then you’ll know exactly where to focus your efforts at improving both the documentation and the rest of the product.

So there you have it.

Surveys that ask customers what they want: too silly.

Surveys that measure the way customers actually use the product: much better.

In-person observation (including usability tests): harder, but best of all.

Tell me about experiences you’ve had improving your products by gathering information from your customers.

Got 20 minutes to help build our profession?

cwsurveybig20 minutes is about what it’ll take to fill out the Content Wrangler’s Industry Benchmarking survey. You probably know the Content Wrangler: he’s Scott Abel, one of the leading voices in technical communication and in the larger community of content creators.

Scott says it’ll take 10 minutes to complete the survey. But I encourage you to ponder over the questions, as I did, and give thoughtful, thorough answers.

Why? Because your answers, along with those of others, will provide a detailed portrait of what content creation looks like today: what tools and techniques we use, what challenges we face, and what we see ahead. It’ll help us understand our profession better and suggest ways to overcome those challenges.

The last such survey, in 2013, gave us just such a portrait. I’ll be interested to see how things have changed over the past 3 years.

Take the survey soon. The survey closes on 15 February, and Scott intends to publish the results around the beginning of March. Everyone who takes the survey will receive a copy of the report. (You’ll also be eligible to win a cool travel bag. But don’t do it for the travel bag. Do it for yourself and for your profession.)

Update 3 Feb: Edited the last paragraph to include the end date for the survey.

Ten Years from Now: Your Professional Interests Evolve

Last week I reported the results of the Ten Years from Now survey. Today I focus on one question from that survey, and one response in particular that I find intriguing.

You might recall that questions 1 and 2 of the survey asked you to describe the work you’ll be doing 10 years from now.

Question 3 asked, Why did you choose the answers you did for Questions 1 and 2? Here are your responses:

74% – My professional interests will have evolved.
42% – I aspire to work at something different from what I’m doing today.
37% – I like what I’m doing, and I expect to keep doing it.
26% – My life circumstances will have changed.
16% – I won’t be able to earn a living, if I keep doing the same thing I’m doing today.

Handheld device showing augmented reality

Augmented reality (source: http://www.t-immersion.com)

It’s striking that nearly three-quarters of you say that your professional interests will evolve over the next 10 years. If you selected that answer, I’m curious to know what you had in mind. When I wrote it, I was thinking about things like these:

  • New technologies, like augmented reality and the Internet of things, will open up opportunities for new kinds of work.
  • You expect to be in a different (hopefully better) place in terms of things like financial security and work/life balance.
  • You see your current Tech Comm work as a stepping stone to another career (yet, on the other questions, most of you said you wanted to stay in Tech Comm).

But those are only guesses. I’d love to know what you were thinking when you chose that answer: how you envision your professional interests evolving, and how that ties in with your view of the Tech Comm profession. Use the comments area to let me know.

Ten Years from Now

Ten years from now, fellow technical communicator, if your expectations come to pass, you’ll still be working in the profession — perhaps as an information architect, content strategist, or consultant.

It’s about fifty-fifty as to whether you’ll be following the career path you’re now embarked on, or doing something new. Either way, you’ll still be creating content.

Quill penRecently I asked you to take a survey about what work you’ll be doing in ten years. 14 out of 19 respondents (74%) expect to be in Tech Comm or a related profession.

The top roles you see yourselves filling, besides content developer: information designer/architect (53%), content strategist (42%), manager (37%), consultant (37%), editor (37%). Continue reading