Tag Archives: survey

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